Chaos and public terror erupted at the Park Fest Concert on Saturday night at the BTL park. Four persons were stabbed and one was shot in a brawl between rival gangs.
But hundreds of concert-goers, including families and young people scattered in terror as three salvos of gunshots were fired in the crowded public space.
They made a dash for their lives, trying to find cover in the open area. According to reports the terrified crowd ran towards thirsty Thursday's, Ex Servicemen's League and the Princess to try and get to an enclosed area - but all 3 establishments closed their entrances when they saw the stampeding crowd approaching.
Our Daniel Ortiz who moonlights as a guitarist was on stage performing with Jenko, when he sensed something had gone terribly wrong. He told Monica Bodden what he saw:
Daniel Ortiz - Was Performing At Park Fest
"We were at the Park Fest. I was supposed to help out an artist - 2 artists actually - performing. My band was supposed to be backing them up. So, it started at 8:30, and the show was going fine. I saw that all of the female local artists were performing, and the crowd seemed to very receptive of it. And when it was about our time to go on. We were start off with Jenko; there were only 2 more performances left. And at time, we're 2 songs into Jenko's performance when I see everyone just rushing past. At first, I thought that a fight had broken out, or maybe it was the music that we were performing. So, I figured, well, something has gone on. I see the show promoter rush on to the stage and tell us to stop. I have never experienced that before; I thought that he was being disorganized and unprofessional. But, he was trying to get us to safety. Someone apparently fired shots into the crowd, and looked out in the crowd and saw mass panic, people running all over the place. I was told someone got hurt getting trampled - I don't know exactly if that is accurate information. But it was scary the first time, and the performers and stage directors are trying to get us off the stage to safety. And the reporter in me, I want to find out what's going on, my family and friends - my girlfriend is trying to pull me to ground to get to safety, and I - I didn't experience something like that before. And so, Jenko says, 'After like 2 to 3 minutes, let's see if anybody would want to listen to us again' And he speaks into the mic, 'Do you want us to continue the show?' And immediately as he says that, more shots are fired, it was crazy. People are running from this side going over to Princess's direction, and then, they run the next direction back because shots are being fired over there. Immediately the police came and told us that we must shutdown the performance. I start to pack up my equipment, and a third set of shots are fired. I don't know what took place on Saturday night to cause something like that, but it was scary. Being - as you know - intimately informed of how dangerous the Belize City landcape has become over the past year, I though my friends and my safety was secured. I didn't know that something like that could possible happen. I would like to say also that the police who were acting as security, did an excellent job. I didn't think it possible that someone could get guns into the event. I personally frisked by one of the officers. I was trying to rush because I was late for the performance. I thought that we were going to perform first, and the officer is like, 'No, wait, you must stop, and we must do our thing.' So, personally, my 2 encounters with the officers doing their job, they didn excellently. I don't see how, but I guess when you're resourceful, you're resourceful, and gunmen will find some way to get the guns in. It doesn't matter what the authorities do, their network is very secure. So, it was crazy, and I've never seen anything like that. And I would conservatively estimate that it was like about 500 to about 1,000 people at the venue. It was very crowded, to see that many people rushing back and forth, it's - I've never seen something like that before. There were some people who were trying to rush to safety. They were trying to burst through the locked gate. They shoved it aside, and forced themselves. My friends, they rushed underneath the stage to try to seek safety."
"So you guys didn't know which directions the shots were coming from?"
"I didn't know where. I just heard the gunshots, 2 of them - I was told it was 3. I just saw when the first set of people rushed from direction to the next, and then they rushed back, and then forward again. Some of my friends were telling me that they couldn't control where they were going, the crowd was forcing them to go a certain direction, and forcing them back. They just got caught in the rush. It's very scary to see that violence could be leaked into something which I thought was secure. I would have never come out here if I knew that the safety of my friends and me was at stake."
It was indeed an event of disturbing public terror, but this morning at the weekly police press briefing no senior officer or ministry official was sent to address the media or to explain how a gang brawl could have escalated so violently - just a stone's throw away from the GSU headquarters at what should have been a secure event.
The media grilled Martinez about the lack of importance police seemed to attach to the obvious public safety concerns:
Albert Ciego - Amandala Press
"It was chaos. There were multiple shootings. People were running for cover."
Raphael Martinez - Police Press Officer
"What the information I have received was that there was only one shooter at the BTL Park, and that is the person that the police are seeking at this point."
"There was chaos, terror - a public terror was created. It might not be satisfactory to say that men were socializing and shots were fired. People were running in droves. The park was full of 6th formers, young adults, high schoolers, and a public terror was created. Where were the security forces? Why were they unable to suppress - there were 3 salvos of gunshots fired, multiple people stabbed. I trying to understand, how is it that you can just say, 'Men were socializing, and these shootings were happening.' What is being done to address the issue of public terror?"
"Well, it's - remember, earlier during the day, we had parade.We had 62 organizations actually involved in that parade in Belize City, the Love FM Christmas Parade, and we had masses of people gathering on the sides. And it was - we had absolutely no criminal activity around that event. On the other hand, as you had rightly mentioned, we had a bit of bedlam and chaos at the BTL Park. I'm hoping that this will actually serve as a learning point for our police department, so that we can, in the future, look and see how best we can manage these public events. As you rightly mentioned, they are getting bigger, and whenever there is an event, so many other people can get hurt. So, I am sure that the police department is looking at this as a learning experience, as something that they can actually grow."
Isani Cayetano - Channel 5 News
"I'm hearing that it's a George Street, Taylor's Alley eruption. Is that confirmed, the whole spate of shootings Caceres and the other guy?"
"I was told that indeed, we have some elements of both. I was told that it all stemmed from some old 'beef', but information has been sketchy at this point."
Geovanni Brackett - Plus TV
"This isn't something light. This is not just like one man against one man. This could also mean that people may not feel safe to go on Albert Street."
"I hear you, and it's actually looking at policing from a different angle, and not looking at it from a routine policing, the old-fashioned way, but actually going back to the drawing board. Look at it as something to grow on."
Geovanni Brackett - Plus TV
"Sir, do you think that the Ministry itself should have had the Minister , the CEO, the Commissioner - I mean - to assure the public that safety, they will take all safety measures, rather than just sending you to face the media?"
"I am pretty sure that you will be hearing something from the Ministry, shortly."
Martinez said that one suspect has been detained. As we mentioned at the tip of our story 1 person was shot and 4 stabbed - none of them died.
21 year old Gregory Jones of number 4 Bocotora Street was shot to the left side of the neck while 28 year old Tulio Caceres of Taylors Alley was stabbed to the right side of the abdomen with and apparent cut wound to the right hand.
16 year old Kareem Smith of Taylor's Alley was stabbed to the left side of his back and to the right side of the abdomen and 24 year old Dillon Diamond of Taylor's Alley was stabbed to the left side of his back.