Under Fire, Man Leaves His Brother Dead In The Water
Tonight's headline has a storyline so sinister and sanguinary it is almost cinematic - but this is no movie; this is real life. In San Pedro on Saturday, four brothers were ambushed at sea while diving for conch, the eldest and youngest pursued by the attacker's boat, forcing them to leave the middle brothers to fend for themselves in open water.
Separated, they fought for their lives, but 25-year-old Jerry Espat could do nothing as gunshots punctured his body, leaving him dead in the water.
The other three lived to tell the story - one that will forever haunt them as fishermen now afraid of the deadly seas.
But what could have triggered such a mercenary and ruthless attack? Well, they think it's a part of the gang war - a battle they have tried their best to stay out of as they watched many other relatives die. And now, the deaths have reached their front door.
Courtney Menzies went to the island today to speak with the family today and has this story.
On Saturday, four brothers went out to sea, and only three returned, two injured.
And the blood staining the inside of "Noah Ark" is a grim reminder of what happened - the Espat brothers went diving for conch when their boat came under fire.
They were ambushed near Cayo Cangrejo, and 25-year-old Jerry Espat was murdered while still wearing his diving fins and mask. His father said his three other sons barely made it out alive, and the eldest, Luis Enrique Santoya, was forced to leave his two little brothers behind.
Anthony Espat, Father of Deceased
"He didn't have any break to pick up those guys in the water, a boat is coming, the red boat is coming and shooting those guys, buss my child's foot, he have to lean down and drive the boat, lean down. These guys was escaping so many gunshots that these guys are shooting, coming with the boat, and shooting and shooting to kill him, they couldn't catch them. They run like five miles away from here, to the gas station here at the back they left those guys, they left my kids, they stop shoot them."
Santoya escaped with a gunshot wound to the leg while the youngest brother, Ricardo Espat was uninjured. But while the red boat was chasing those two, the green boat caught Jerry and Kirian Espat out in the water.
Kirian lived to tell the tale - the brutal murder of his brother and the fight he put up to save his own life.
Kirian Espat, Brother of Deceased
"I was out there with my little brother and my two other brothers, four of us were out there, all brothers, two boats ambush we, and they tried to kill us, they shoot up at my brother and they shoot up the boat and only me and my little brother Jerry Espat stay in the water. They come out from the bush and a next boat rush my little brother and shot him right in front of me in his back. He get like six shots. I just hear the man come and bam bam bam bam bam. Then the next boat that's [OMIT NAME] boat, it came into us and he his boat come into me and buss like five gunshot at me. Five gunshot and I swim down for my life and those boys, the gun end up jamming on them and they pick up a shovel, a long machete, and they knock me in my head, and I still didn't give up on my life, I hide underneath the bow off the boat, I was hiding, and I was breathing, and I was coming up, and I was breathing. The guy who was driving [OMIT NAME] run into me. Because I know [OMIT NAME], I know those boys. I grew up with those boy at San Juan, and the boy run me with the engine, it cut my diving pants, my whole diving pants get cut up with the propellor. They almost kill me, they wanted to kill me, they battle with me twenty minutes and can't and they get frighten and they off and gone and left my little brother floating up right there, dead."
And the only reason Kirian could think of for the attack was that his cousins are involved in a gang war on the island. But even though he said he's not a part of that, the men were coming to bury them.
Kirian Espat, Brother of Deceased
"I'm not into trouble, I have two small babies and a next one on the way. I have one that's 6 and one that's 4, already going to school, and those boys ambush we, and try chance us off our life, they killed my little brother in front of me, bawling for help. And they wanted to take us back behind Bomba and chop us up because it's right around Cangrejo it happen, they wanted to chop us up, I see they have a pick to dig hole in his boat, a long big pick, and two shovel and a long black machete, four of them were in the boat."
And the sound of his little brother crying out for help and the memory of narrowly dodging bullets remains with Kirian, keeping him awake at night. And his father is crushed, saying that the men went there for a 'masacre.' And he had a message for those at the top.
Anthony Espat, Father of Deceased
"I wanna say something to our country, I feel like it's too much, I feel like we need to ask to please our minister to do something about this, to change the system, you cannot have a killer do one, twice, and again and again, how many times he have to do this to give him life in prison?"
"In my knowledge, I think we shouldn't got no kind of relation, the government, with the gang members, you are petting them up and this is not supposed to happen, we are never going to stop this killing if they don't change the rules."
"I see it everyday in the news, how they're killing the people, the young guys. I prefer they killed me and not kill my baby, because my baby hasn't lived anything yet."
Jerry Espat had a common-law wife and a 1-year-old daughter.
Many from the Espat family have died in violent incidents on the island. Rolando Espat Sr, who is this victim's uncle, has lost four sons: Charlie, who was found in a shallow grave in Orange Walk with his cousin, Daniel Alamilla; Byron Espat, who was stabbed to death inside a club; Rolando Espat Jr, who was fatally shot close to his home; and little Daniel Espat, a 2-year-old killed while sleeping. Rolando Sr's brother-in-law, Edwardo Gutierrez was also a victim of this gang war, and he was a victim in a triple homicide.
Two More Charged For Espat Murder
Earlier in the news we told you about the Espat brothers, who were ambushed and shot at, leaving one brother dead in the water. Police had arrested one person for murder, but at 6:30 tonight, we learned that they have arrested two other men. 22-year-old Pedro Tun and 36-year-old Sergio Luis Tun were charged jointly for 2 counts of attempted murder, 2 counts of use of deadly means of harm and 1 count of grievous harm.
Murder at Sea: Gunmen Ambush Espat Brothers, Jerry Dies
The Espat family from San Pedro is asking for justice after one of their own was gunned down while fishing at sea on Saturday. Jerry Espat and three of his siblings were diving and fishing near Cangrejo Caye, about five miles south of Ambergris Caye when they were attacked by gunmen in two boats. Several bullets made their mark on Jerry, whose body was discovered the following day near some mangroves. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
On Saturday, the Espat brothers from San Pedro: Jerry Espat, Luis Enrique Santoya, Ricardo Anthony Espat and Kirian Espat headed to a location near Cangrejo Caye for a fishing trip which turned deadly when four men on two separate boats drove up and opened fired on the group. Jerry and Kirian were in the water at the time diving for conch when they were ambushed. Jerry died and his body was found on Sunday, while Kirian and the others escaped with their lives.
Kirian Espat, Shooting Victim
“Four ah we mi deh out there, four breddas. They ambush we and dehn try fu kill we. Dehn shot up after my bredda and dehn shoot up the boat. And then only me and my lee bredda, Jerry Espat stay ina di water. Dehn bwai come out from the bush and wah next boat rush my lee bredda and shot up ahn right in front of me ina ih back. Ih get like six gunshot.The gun end up di jam pan dehn; and dehn end up di piic up wah shovel and a long machete and try whap me. Dehn whap up me ina my head. and I still noh give up for my life. I hide underneath the bow off of the boat and I di hide and I the breathe and I di come up and I di breathe. And the bally weh di drive, Toshie, he run into me.”
Anthony Espat, Father of Deceased
“Dehn shot up Jerry in front of his brother. Kirian Espat was floating like a fifteen feet away from Jerry. Jerry was saying, “Bwai Kir, what you gonna do?” Kirian telling me that he almost cried telling him what we gonna do? “Help me Kir, help me!” My son say mien, how I gonna help him dad? I can’t help him. I am defensible too.” So whenever dehn come, he see when the guy come and do so to Jerry Espat, bam, bam, bam, bam. They were in the water. My son still had on his fins and his mask.”
Injured during the attack, Ricardo Espat and Luis Santoya fled the area towards San Pedro to get help, but were pursued by the gunmen, who continued to fire shots at them.
“He come and spin and he can’t stop to pick up ih bredda dehn. So the next one, Ricardo Espat say let’s go let’s go fi home Luis. Let’s go. They come to the island. The red boat follow them from Cayo Cangrejo to this gas station in the back. Right there, they stop follow them. They came shooting all over the river, inside the river. The green boat dah di one weh come and kill Jerry.”
Jerry’s body was recovered from mangroves near Cangrejo Caye one day later on Sunday.
ASP Fitzroy Yearwood, Communications Director, Belize Police Department
“About nine a.m. on Sunday, police received information that there was a body floating in the sea near some mangroves in that same area believed to be Jerry Espat. It was confirmed that it was Jerry, now deceased. So investigators are trying to identify these occupants that aggressed them on the sea on Saturday leading to now a fatal where Jerry Espat lost his life.”
The Espats are devastated by the attack and the death of their loved one. Overwhelmed with grief, Patriarch Anthony Espat is concerned about their safety and wants justice.
“They went with a clean mind to do some working. We sell in all of the restaurants in San Pedro. We are well known by the island, by the restaurants. We sell in all different restaurants every day and this is not fair. I want to say something to our country. I feel like it is too much. I feel like we need to ask to please our minister to do something about this, to change the system. You cannot have a guy, a killer do it once, twice and again and again. How many times he have to do this.”
Several persons are in police custody at this time, pending further investigation. But the brothers recognised their attackers because they grew up with them. The family is puzzle and does not understand why they targeted.
“I know dehn bwai. I see dehn. I grow up with dehn bwai dah San Juan and bally run with the engine and try run into me. He cut my diving pants with the propeller. Dehn nearly kill me. Dehn battle with me nearly twenty minutes and can’t. And dehn get frighten and dehn just take off and gone and lef my lee bredda di float up right dehn dead.”
“It’s friends from school when they were a kid. Friends from school; he tell them “Tush, why you gonna do me this? Why you’re doing this? What I do you? What I do you Tush, what I do you?” they recognised them. They are friends from school. He called ahn by ih name and tell ahn why you’re doing this to me; we don’t do you nothing.”
Late this evening, the Police Department announced they have made an arrest. Gabriel Villafranco of San Pedro has been charged with murder, attempted murder, use of deadly means of harm and wounding. Police have also charged Pedro and Sergio Luis Tun jointly for two counts each for attempted murder, use of deadly means of harm, and grievous harm.