Police Free Two Tourists Taken Hostage In The West

Tonight, authorities in San Ignacio continue to search for 4 Hispanic men, believed to be Guatemalans after 2 Americans were taken hostage this morning.

Police managed to save 18 year-old Kathen Kotay and 22 year-old Manisha Kotay, both tourists originally from the US State of Virginia. It was a race against time, and with the help of the residents of the Cayo District, police managed to foil the plot.

Daniel Ortiz was in Cayo today, and he went looking for details:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
Theo Cocchi embraced her 2 guests this afternoon in front of the police station like they were her family.

It was understandable, after all, they did go through a traumatic experience together, and they survived it.

The 2 American tourists had made reservations to get a tour of the ATM caves, but because it was closed to the public, they had to make different reservations.

Cocchi was hosting them at her resort called Parrot's Nest, and after they ate she offered them a ride to San Ignacio. She had just driven them out of her establishment and on the way to Bullet Tree Road, a man stepped in front of the vehicle blocking her.

When she slowed down, another man ambushed the three of them, and at gunpoint he ordered her to let them in.

Fearing for all of their lives, she did and when the 2 men got in, the armed man ordered her to take them to a secluded area of Paslow Falls.

When they got a deserted location, the men jumped out, took the guests hostage, and made demands of Cocchi. She was to return with $75,000, or the guests would be killed; if she alerted the police, they would be killed. She promised them she would return with the money, and when she went back to her business place, concerned friends and associates found her in distress.

When they learned what had happened, they called the police, banded together, and went searching for the hostage tourists themselves.

Their quick thinking led to the discovery of the woman, which snowballed into the recovery the man.

Michael Waight - Helped Rescue the Tourists
"We got the news that the people were being taken to Paslow Falls area, so we try to respond with the police, we needed help from the police because we didn't have guns, only machete. We tried to move as fast as we could to rescue these people. Actually we went to the police and got them because they didnt have a vehicle, but the police mobile came afterwards and we went to Paslow Falls area looking for the direction where these people went."

"We ended up getting from the police afterwards. With the police and the cooperation of friends we ended up finding the people."

"How far off the road did you find the guests?"

Michael Waight - Helped Rescue the Tourists
"The guests were in the jungle. They heard the police."

"How much minutes walking in?"

Michael Waight - Helped Rescue the Tourists
"Not too much minutes in. She was frightened, really scared because the men had guns."

Daniel Ortiz
"Tell us about how you guys found the brother?"

Michael Waight - Helped Rescue the Tourists "She told us that her brother were a little bit ahead, so we ended up rescued the brother along with the police." By that time police joined them, and they set chase after the men, who were still very close by. They managed to escape, and since then a joint search between BSAG, MIT, and San Ignacio Police has been ongoing.

It is believed that the quick response from the residents, and the concerted efforts of law enforcement circling the areas, cornered the assailants, and they realized that they wouldn't get far with the hostages. They let them go, and fled.

The suspects were first believed to be wanted Belizeans who have been terrorizing San Ignacio and Santa Elena for the past few months, but after getting more information, police believe that all the 3 or 4 men who worked to conduct this kidnapping are Guatemalans. They are working with their Guatemalan counterparts to locate these men, if they have fled across the border.

Should the police be able to detain them, the BTB is making arrangements to have the guests stay in Belize, to identify them and bring them to swift justice. Crimes against tourists have been difficult to persecute.

Kevin Gonzalez - Director, Destination Planning, BTB
"Ever since the Placencia incident, one of the things that we have established or started to do with the guests, we discussed with them to normally try and find out when they are leaving and if necessary we will keep them in the country at our cost."

Both tourists were unharmed when they were rescued; they continue to be given sanctuary at the Parrot Nest Lodge.

Police say that they found a blue knap sack in the area where the Kotay siblings were rescued. It was stuffed with wet clothes, including an orange sweater and wet blue sweater believed to be what the suspects were wearing at the time of the kidnapping.

Channel 7