Police arrest PG "witchdoctor"
A desperate father, deeply concerned about the fate of his two missing children, and angry with the police for their apparently lackadaisical approach to the investigation, fell into the clutches of a local “witchdoctor,” with the result that a million-dollar investment, business and a home, has gone up in flames.
The witchdoctor, a female now being charged by police, allegedly told the missing children’s parents that they were being held on the premises of an American couple, Vince and Cherie Chenot-Rose, who owned a crocodile sanctuary.
The father, Pedro Rash, aided by about a hundred incensed villagers, stormed Vince and Cherie’s business, American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES), to look for the children, Benjamin Rash, 11, and Onelia Rash, 9, both from San Marcos Village, Toledo.
The children were not found, but ACES and the Roses’ home, all uninsured, were burned, totally destroyed by the flames.
An angry, outraged and disbelieving Vince and Cherie, who were not at home at the time, when they learned of the destruction of their 7-year investment, and home, sent out a press release yesterday, part of which we reproduce:
“In the early morning hours of September 5th, a frenzied mob of Mayan-Belizean villagers set fire to the American Crocodile sanctuary that a Colorado couple spent the last six years creating.
“‘We’ve lost everything,’ said Cherie Chenot-Rose, co-owner and founder of the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES).
“The mob was apparently riled into frenzy by a Mayan ‘psychic’ who claimed that two children who have been missing for the last week had been fed to the crocodiles at the sanctuary. It is alleged that the same group of villagers are responsible for burning other homes in the past several months in the Toledo District, the southernmost portion of Belize.
“Luckily, Cherie and her husband, Vince Rose, were in San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye when the mob attacked. At the request of the Belize Forest Department, the team was rescuing three problem crocs and meeting with top Belize tourism officials discussing the prospect of creating an American Crocodile sanctuary on the island.
“Reports are that the mob shot and killed some of the 17 crocs held in captivity at the sanctuary. Also destroyed were the Rose’s two-story home that included a laboratory and nursery for baby crocs. One baby American Crocodile was to be flown to Chicago to the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, Ill., USA, for the first ever animal exchange program between Belize and the USA.
“Over $2,500 in vet supplies that were recently donated for a new humane society that Cherie, along with other locals, was working on in Punta Gorda were also lost.
“‘This one wrongful incident has affected and hurt many innocent people and animals,’ added Cherie…”
Reports to Amandala are that the high emotions started to boil over from early Sunday morning when armed villagers—approximately 100 of them—showed up outside the Punta Gorda Police Station demanding that police go and search the American couple’s home in the Water Hole Area, approximately 11 miles outside Punta Gorda Town. Police didn’t accede to the demands and shortly afterwards, Vincent Rose’s home, along with ACES in the Water Hole Area, was stormed by the villagers at about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
The house and buildings were set ablaze by the angry mob, who believed that Rose was responsible for the disappearance of the children 17 days earlier, courtesy of the “witchdoctor,”whom the children’s father had consulted. The villagers descended on ACES and the Roses’ home, and shortly after, everything burnable was set on fire.
A couple of the villagers told Amandala that the police had told them that they could not search the facility because they didn’t have a signed search warrant.
While the police were searching the southern parts of Toledo for the children, the villagers banded together to search on their own, because they felt that the police wasn’t doing a thorough job. The police had not searched the Roses’ premises, which included ACES.
Amandala understands from a credible source that a top-brass police officer had been warned of the villagers’ intent to gather in front of ACES and conduct their own search, and that the situation could have gotten out of hand if the authorities didn’t go to the location. But by the time the police arrived a few hours later, the Roses’ home and ACES had already gone up in flames.
Yesterday, Monday, the Mayan villagers from San Marcos were still showing support for the family by gathering in front of the Punta Gorda Police Station and picketing the police’s “lack of activity” to conduct proper searches for the children and the dragging of feet to issue a proper search warrant to search ACES.
Police say Tuesday that they have arrested and charged Delfina Alvarez Selgado, 42, a housewife of Water Supply Area of Punta Gorda Town, yesterday for the offense of “pretending to tell fortune.” She pleaded not guilty to the charge and bail of $1,500 was offered. She is to reappear in Punta Gorda Magistrate’s Court on October 12, 2010.
Amandala sources say that Greg Choc, a respected Mayan activist of Toledo, had to step in and arrange legal representation for the people whom the police were thinking about taking into custody.
We also had a chance to hear Pedro Rash, the father of the children, speak about the circumstances of the supposed tie-in between his missing children and the ACES.
Pedro Rash, father of the missing children, said: “I have evidence here, because we went there (ACES) along with the police, and one of my village members found lime (the fruit) on the premises. That’s why we are expecting the police to get into that house or call that person. I believe that the police know where that person [is], so we are expecting the police to bring in this man, talk to him, and open the place so that I am satisfied…”
The lime is of significance, said Rash, because the children were selling a number of things when they went missing, including lime.
Rash also said that the “witchdoctor” told them that the children were on the premises of ACES, but they were “underground,” which conflicts with Rose’s press release that stated that the “witchdoctor” had said that the children had been fed to the crocodiles.
Rash also recounted how the “witchdoctor” planned to find the children; she would divine their location by performing magic on items of clothing belonging to them and have the police accompany her to that exact location.
Pedro Rash added: “She asked me about giving her some clothing for the pair of children; I brought it that same day she asked. She told me she will do the magic work on the clothes; she will inform the BDF and the police and go in that area. When we saw her here this morning, in front of Mr. Mariano [Senior Superintendent Robert Mariano, officer in charge of the Punta Gorda Police Station], I informed the police before I gave over the clothing to her. I wanted the police to take a statement for this, but Corporal Avila did not take any statements, such as …details like what color they [the clothing] are. Corporal Avila told me that he knows the witchdoctor, and I asked if she could help them in locating the children. That’s when they [the police and the witchdoctor] left…” [He did not say where they went.]
We also got a chance to hear Vince Rose, co-owner of ACES, speak about his loss.
Vince Rose said: “We run a crocodile sanctuary, which means we go around with the Belize Police Department getting wild crocodiles that have been fed by humans, out of their backyards or out of their areas, because now they’re dangerous crocodiles, and they are going to kill someone someday. So we are doing the opposite of what everyone else thinks. We are preventing people from being hurt.”
Rose said that he and others have been working with American and Morelet’s crocodiles for 7 years. He says that he and his wife have a spotless record here in Belize and in the US. He was outraged that not only were his life’s work and home destroyed, but especially, where the information came from; it was not from a credible source to merit such an “act of terrorism,” as he described it. He said that he is upset with the Mayan community for what they did, and as a result, he will not sanction another facility being built down in Toledo.
“The Mayan community should be very ashamed of themselves,” Rose commented. “They burned the wrong man’s house down and destroyed any future entities for their own Toledo District.”
He said that he and his wife sustained approximately a million dollars in damages because the facility was not insured. He said the facility was built of steel and wood. He said that he and his wife had moved there for life, but now not only did their investment go down the drain but their personal belongings and memories were also destroyed.
Rose said he plans to take legal action against anyone the police finds responsible for the arson. He also wishes that attempted murder and trespassing be added to the list of charges, because he and his wife could have been in the houses when they were burned down.
Both parties felt that the police didn’t support them well enough: the villagers felt that the police didn’t provide them with enough support by taking too long to get the search warrant and open up the place for inspection, and Rose feels that the police didn’t make an appearance quickly enough to stop the mob from burning his place to the ground.
The police in Punta Gorda have remained quiet about the whole matter.
(Special thanks to Wil Maheia and the PGTV crew for helping us with this story.)
(Ed. NOTE: The story made CNN International today, under an article captioned: Belize mob torches Americans’ animal sanctuary but their will survives.)