The Swallow Caye 5: All Killed At Sea
It's been one of the most violent and unsettling weekends we've ever witnessed, with a staggering death toll: we have 9 murders to report on tonight, killings with motives ranging from narco-violence to a lovers' triangle.
We start where we left off Friday with the mass murder at sea. On Friday night: the body count was three dead, with two missing. But over the weekend the final two men were found - and, just like the first three, they had been murdered, shot multiple times. These two were found tied up behind Mapp Caye - not far from Swallow Caye - about three miles off the coast of Belize City, which is also where two of the other three had been found.
Mapp is an island used by lobster fishermen as a camp - but it seems the killers believed that 21 year old Jamar Martinez, 19 year old Allyson Jones, 23 year old Travis Cooke, 49 year old Ernest Wills and 40 year old Winston Santos had fished up something far more valuable than lobster; they may have thought the men found a large quantity of cocaine floating at sea.
Police believe that's the reason for the quintuple murder. Investigators now have to put together a multiple murder investigation for killings that happened at sea, far from any witnesses or fixed crime scene.
They discussed they mass murder yesterday at a press briefing - and Daniel Ortiz reports:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
5 men, who were only supposed to have been gone on a fishing trip for a few days, are now buried here at the Eternal Garden Cemetery.
The bodies of 23 year-old Travis Cooke, 49 year-old Ernest Willis, 40 year-old Winston Santos, 21 year-old Jamar Martinez, and 19 year-old Alysson Jones, were all discovered between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. All 5 men were killed in a bizarre mass murder at their Mapp Caye fishing camp. Their families and law enforcement teams found them one by one in the marine areas around Swallow Caye and Mapp Caye.
The last 2 were discovered on Saturday.
Sr. Supt. Hilberto Romero - Deputy Head, NCIB
"On Saturday 22nd, June, 2019, as a result of ongoing investigations into the 3 bodies that were found previously, police conducted a search and rescue operations with specialized units of the Belize police department, the Coast Guard and family members of the deceased which led to the discovery of 2 bodies behind Mapp Caye in an area near a lagoon. The 2 bodies were identified of those of Alysson Jones and Jamar Martinez."
"Has the post-mortems results been shared with you all as yet?"
Sr. Supt. Hilberto Romero
"Yes we have gotten those results. They all had gunshot injuries."
4 of the victims are from one family, and so understandably, their pain and grief is compounded.
Voice of: Family Members
"It's very hard for the family at the moment, I mean anyone could understand the pain that we are going through right now for having 4 family members passes away at almost the same time. It's a difficult time for the family. My mom lost her son, my sister lost her youngest son, my other sister lost her oldest son and my brother who also passes away within this tragic incident, he lost a nephew as well who is also part of the family. We are grieving and hurting and all we want is answers from the police department. It hit us so hard that all 5 of them are dead."
The family members learned about the killing of their loved ones on the news. The pictures that police released allowed them to recognize the tattoos of the victims.
Voice of: Family Members
"We saw the pictures that channel 7 posted up with the first person that they found that had the tattoo on his chest. That was my nephew. When we saw it we could have immediately identify that that was him, so we call the police and from there we put our search party into action and we started to look for the others."
Police are attempting to find out what happened out at sea, and who it was that stormed into the fishing camp and gunned down all 5 men. During a press conference today, Police Commissioner Chester Williams had a cryptic warning for the general public about cocaine wet drops, and the dangers of seeking them out.
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police
"Of recent we have been hearing of wet drops and we know that whenever there are rumors of wet drops that people including fishermen tends to comb the seas and beaches with a view to find these illegal substance. I want the public to understand and to take heed to the fact that while they may look at the proceeds of these substances as a means of collection large sums of money that it do come with a risk and so I would want to emphasize to the Belizean people not to be combing the beaches or waterways looking for these substance. These things do come with a cost and some times the cost is your life."
And police suspect at this time that these 5 fishermen may have been killed in connection with that. At this time, it is only speculation, but this photograph, of all these many hundred dollar bills, which was posted on Jamar's facebook page days before his demise, lends some credibility to law enforcement's suspicion at this time.
"It is from a preliminary standpoint that the demise of these 5 individuals may have been related to that kind of activity?"
"That is the information that we are receiving and it is yet to be confirmed and there is also a picture` that was on social media with one of the deceased showing off with a large sum of money. It is believed that that maybe one of the reasons behind it."
"When you are in possession of large sums of money, please don't be showing off on social media with your large sum of money because people are watching and it makes you an easy target."
But, although police say that their investigation is currently leading them down that direction, the family members of the victims are asserting that they were honest, law-abiding citizens.
Voice of: Family Member
"This was an honest fishing trip that my brother who is a certified captain took his other nephews under his wing to take them out to make an honest living. They went last week Friday, because the lobster had open that same Saturday so they went out Friday to go prepare for the lobster season. They have families as usual so it was just to go out there do their lobster thing and come back in and sell and make a living, because they all have families who they need to support."
A few more notes from the family: they are complaining that police had no vessels to aid them in the search for their loved ones this weekend. One family member was very upset that on Saturday, it took the police and the Coast Guard up to 3 hours before they were able to reach to the location where the last 2 of the 5 murder victims were found. They also are complaining that a member of the security forces was taking photographs and video, which both they and 2 police escorts were objecting to. Those pictures somehow ended up Facebook, and the family is aggrieved by that public disclosure.
We also note that two men went missing at Mapp Caye earlier this year - one of them, the watchman, Edinio Humes was found killed on the island. He had been shot to the head. The other two men, including island owner Evan Neal have not been found and are presumed dead. We note that Evan Neal and these five men were neighborhood friends from Lake I and did go to fish together in the past.