It was a deadly weekend in Belize - with three homicides, and six persons shot. Most of that violence is believed to have stemmed from the public slaying of a gang boss.
Word spread like wildfire from the south on Saturday night that one of the most well known gang figures in Belize, Gerald "Shiny" Tillett had been killed in Dangriga.
Shiny is the brother of Shelton Pinky Tillett - the former George Street leader - who was killed on Saturday April 21 of 2012. One-week short of three years later - older brother, 37 year old Gerald was slain in Dangriga, in what appears to be an execution style killing.
But, this one happened at a popular nightspot, and unleashed chaos in the heart of Dangriga town. Courtney Weatherburne went there today looking for answers:..
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
For Wadani Shed owner David Rodriguez, this blooded grey t-shirt was the only thing between him and the bullet that struck his chest on Saturday night.
At first, he didn't feel the pang of pain nor the blood soaking his shirt. He only felt the bullet lodged in his chest.
David Rodriguez, Wadani Shed Owner
"I kind of went down on my knees and I said 'wait I can feel this bullet'. I tried to take the bullet out of my chest, and I couldn't get it out. I started to squeeze. I call one of my friends, Anthony Garbutt who does construction, and I told him 'take it out for me, it can come out'. He took out the bullet."
But Rodriguez was only one of 4 who were shot at the Wadani Shed. Rodriguez was hanging out with his customers, playing another round of 'Dice' when someone opened fire under the shed.
David Rodriguez, Wadani Shed Owner
"A bunch of us were around a table. Me, 'shiny', a friend 'sharpie', a next guy Jason Williams, a bunch of us were around the table. Someone just came from behind, I couldn't even tell if he was in a vehicle or on a bike. He just started to shoot and I saw men falling."
Reputed George Street Gang leader Gerald "Shiny" Tillet was the first to fall with a bullet to the head. After that, Rodriguez and another friend Carlos Sharp were shot to the chest. But the exchange of gunfire didn't end there, another one of Tillet's friends who was under the shed pulled out his gun and shot the gunman in his back as he tried to escape. Now, although Rodriguez is recovering, he is still traumatized because he says he got caught in the middle of someone else's mess:
David Rodriguez, Wadani Shed Owner
"I'm not into gang and those things. I'm almost 50 years old to be fooling with those things when I have a beautiful family. I don't want this to be a threat to my family. we have nothing to do with this."
Apart from Rodriguez, the entire community is still shaken. One of the eyewitnesses told us off camera that this type of shoot-out doesn't happen in the Culture Capital.
Voice of Eyewitness
"Everyone here at Dangriga was so shocked because we aren't used to gun shots. We are used to sitting down in any corner of our house, we are used to any area just for sitting and hanging out. Like how you're here today, every corner you see someone sitting down, a group of men sitting down. That's what we're used to, we sit down at any corner of our houses at any time of the day. We aren't used to those gun shots."
Although the community wasn't expecting an outburst of violence like this, the police always have to be prepared and they are working closely with their Belize City counterparts in the investigation. That is because Tillet's murder may be linked to a gang rivalry in Belize City. Assistant Superintendent of Police in Dangriga Mark Stevens could not elaborate on that gang connection but he told us that police have everything under control.
ASP Mark Stevens, Dangriga Police Formation
"I want to reassure the residents of Dangriga that we are implementing some strategies/operations to deal with what happened because we expect that there will be retaliatory shootings. That is what we are currently trying to prevent."
But regardless of the increased foot and vehicular police patrols, this execution style murder and shoot out has left behind a thick imprint of fear that has turned this once fun and popular hangout spot into a danger zone. So much so that the Wadani shed might just be closed down for good.
David Rodriguez, Wadani Shed Owner
"I'm thinking about closing down the shed at the end of the year and do something else. I don't want to have my family in trouble for other people. I think this is my last year there, I don't even want to be a part of that anymore. I told my nephew to take care of that."
As you saw, Rodriguez is recovering at home but Carlos Sharp is still hospitalized. Now as for the alleged gunman who killed Tillett he too is hospitalized and is under heavy police guard at an undisclosed hospital.
In August of 2015, this same suspect got off the murder of Mennonite businessman, Wendell Reimer at Eagle One Hardware near the Haulover Bridge. And while he is from Dangriga, police believe he has links to Belize City gangs, links that were solidified when he spent four years in jail on remand for the Reimer murder, and developed alliances with a number of city gang figures.
City Goes on Lockdown Following Gang Leader’s Murder
The news of the murder of Gerald ‘Shiny’ Tillett spread around the country late Saturday night and led the police to be on high alert for the chance of any possible retaliation. The hours that would follow Tillett’s murder had the authorities in the old capital, led by Assistant Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, taking preventative measures in all areas of the city. Yesterday he spoke with our colleagues at Krem News of what those measures were and why.
“Some of those measures that we put in place since last night is basically to beef up our police presence in the known gang areas. We are also increasing our stop and searches, we are targeting tinted vehicles, vehicles without license plates, all of those will be targeted by the police and last night what we also did was to close down the Chinese stores at 9pm to minimize the amount of persons who would be out on the streets and I know it is something that people are not happy with but at the end of the day as police we must take certain measures to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. The more the stores remain open the more people it attracts to the street and more it also attracts crime so that is what we did last night. As it also relates to the nightclub we also closed the night clubs down at 12pm last night. We still allowed people a latitude to go out and have fun. I want to assure the people of Belize City that this is not something that will be done forever but until things can come back to normalcy. Basically we are ensuring the safety and security of our citizens in Belize City. We want to assure the residents of Belize City that from a police standpoint we will do what we need to do to maintain law and order not only on South Side Belize City but across the city of Belize and I am sure the commissioner is also in dialogue with the other commanders across the country to do similar things in their respective jurisdiction to maintain peace within the area. Yes there are concerns from people but we want to assure them that we will do what we need to do to ensure that they remain safe in their respective communities.”
While Williams did admit to the shutting down of clubs and establishments as a preventative measure, Senior Superintendent Alden Dawson told the media that these measures have been taking place prior to Tillett’s murder.
“There is no such thing as the city being on lockdown. We embarked on the liquor license act since last week prior to this incident where we are having the shops close at 9pm because their license are only good up until 9pm and we find that a lot of these shops remain opened at night and these are some of the things that attract people to be out.”
“But there were two nightclubs that the police came and locked down, you had Dinos who had an extension for up to 4am that morning, they were locked down at 12:20 on Saturday night and then you had Thirsty Thursday who was supposed to close at 2am and they were locked down just after midnight.”
“I don’t know about that, that’s on the north side I have no knowledge of those clubs being closed and for what reason.”
As Williams mentioned, the preventative measures will continue indefinitely.
George Street gang boss executed in Dangriga
The peace at the Wadani Recreational Center at the corner of Mangrove and St. Vincent Streets in Dangriga, was shattered at about 7:00 Saturday night as people scrambled for cover after gunfire erupted during a gin card game under a shed, leaving one man dead and two others injured.
Witnesses say that a gunman went to the shed and shot a player identified as Gerald “Shiny” Tillett, 37, of George Street, Belize City, the reputed boss of the George Street gang.
Tillett was shot in the back of the head, and as he slumped forward onto the table, the gunman fired some more shots, hitting two other men. One man was shot in the side of the abdomen and the other man was shot in the chest as they attempted to escape from the murderous gunfire.
A man who was under the shed responded to the gunfire by shooting at the gunman, hitting him in the chest and back, but the gunman was still able to escape.
There were about 20 to 30 people recreating at Wadani at the time.
When police arrived at the scene at about 7:30 Saturday night, they found that the shooting victims had already been taken to the Southern Regional Hospital. They immediately went to the hospital and found Gerald Tillett, who had a gunshot wound in the back of the head; they also saw David Rodriguez, 46, a businessman of Magoon Street, Dangriga, with a gunshot wound in the chest, and Carlos Sharp, 37, the manager of Coco Plum Resort, Stann Creek District, with a gunshot wound in the right side of the abdomen.
Sharp, we were told, is the nephew of the husband of Marie Sharp, the hot sauce magnate.
The shooting victims were subsequently taken to the Western Regional Hospital, where Gerald Tillett was pronounced dead at 11:00 p.m.
Police say that while they were at the hospital conducting an initial investigation, a taxicab brought a man suffering from with gunshots wounds for treatment. That fourth person was Nicholas Swaso, 37, of Dangriga. He had been shot in the back and the chest.
Swaso was admitted to ward, under police custody. Police say that when he is released from the hospital, he will be charged for the murder of “Shiny” Tillett, as well as with two counts of attempted murder, use of deadly means of harm, and grievous dangerous harm.
Police are anticipating more shootings in the wake of the execution of the reputed boss of the George Street gang, and have since increased patrols and roadblocks in the city, and in Dangriga.
Superintendent Alden Dawson, Deputy Commander of Eastern Division police, said that they are in communication with Dangriga police as well as the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) in Belize City, as they anticipate retaliation from gang members.
Actions taken by police have included an order that stores be shut down by 9:00 p.m. and the shutting down of nightclubs by midnight. Supt. Dawson said that they are just enforcing some laws that are on the books and that they started their efforts at putting these laws into effect last week.
The motive for the murder is not yet known.
“Shiny” Tillett usually went to the Wadani with his friends and bodyguards, we were told, but they had just gone to the store when the gunman launched his attack.
Tillett is the third son of the Tillett family to lose his life to gun violence. The first son was Dean Tillett, while the second son was Sheldon “Pinky” Tillett, the declared boss of the George Street gang, whom Shiny succeeded after Pinky was murdered in 2012.
The death of “Shiny” Tillett will leave a vacuum in the leadership and many believe that there will be a power struggle among ambitious gang members to take command of the street gang.