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Mass shooting in Isla Bonita kills three

Photo: (l-r) Delmar Rodriguez; daughter, Amarie Rodriguez and Carlos Chi deceased

Father and daughter along with another man were killed in a drug-related murder shortly after midnight in San Pedro Town after a night out. Four others were injured as a result of the shooting. A deceased’s relative accuses rogue cops of facilitating criminals in San Pedro.

by Charles Gladden

SAN PEDRO TOWN, Ambergris Caye, Mon. Oct. 23, 2023

A drug-related mass shooting in San Pedro Town that occurred shortly after midnight, in the wee hours of Monday, October 23, left three persons dead – a father, Delmar Rodriguez, 25, a fisherman; his three-year-old daughter, Amarie Rodriguez; and another male person identified as Carlos Chi of Corozal District. Rodriguez and Chi died on the scene, meanwhile the toddler died while she was being transported to the San Pedro Polyclinic.

Delmar Rodriguez, his common-law wife, Karla Cordova, and their daughter, were reportedly heading home in a golf cart along with two other occupants, Leonel Cornejo, 27, of the San Mateo area, and Chi, and as they turned into a road in the San Pedrito Area by the lagoon they were ambushed by two gunmen. The gunmen, described to be wearing all-dark clothing, arose from the mangroves and blasted a barrage of gunshots in their direction, killing Rodriguez instantly and causing him to fall out of the golf cart. One of the occupants of the cart then got behind the wheel and drove some of the remaining injured to the San Pedro Polyclinic where toddler Amarie was pronounced dead on arrival.

When cops arrived at the scene, they discovered the motionless bodies of Rodriguez and Chi on the ground. In addition to the three deceased, four other persons received gunshot injuries and were sent to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. The four injured were: Leonel Cornejo, 27, from the San Mateo area; Jose Hernandez, 31, Ivan Ruben Guerra, 23, and Randy Guerra, 19, all from the San Pedrito Area.

“It goes to show the callousness with which some of these criminals operate, and as a nation, these are things that we must condemn. So, I condemn the conduct of the perpetrator of this triple murder in San Pedro in its highest terms, and want to assure the Belizean people that we are doing all we can to locate those two individuals and have them accounted [for] before the court for what they have done,” expressed Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams.

ComPol Williams highlighted that additional manpower will be deployed to the island to help with the investigation. A team of senior investigators from Major Crimes, along with personnel from the Specialized Unit will also join the effort to locate two men, Michael Brown and Christian Espat, who are being sought by the department as persons of interest.

Reports suggest that the motive for this latest triple murder is connected with drug activity on the island. ComPol Williams confirmed reports to local reporters that drugs were found on the body of one of the deceased.

“What we have gathered in terms of a motive is that there may have been some drugs found by one of the deceased persons … one of the deceased persons was a close affiliate of Christian Espat, and apparently after drugs were found, there was a division between them … what we are hearing [is] that there was not an equitable share of the drugs, and based on that he was targeted by the Espat. So, it is a motive that we’re looking at. We believe the motive is credible, based on what we have gotten from other sources, and so the police continue to look at that investigation,” ComPol Williams said.

Strong claims have surfaced from Jorge Aldana, a relative of Rodriguez, that rogue police officers played a role in his family member’s demise.

“There have been several instances where my nephew has, and not only my nephew, several street elements, have come forward to police, feeding them with evidence and information about rogue police officers on the island who aid, assist, and facilitate these known terrorists in their illicit activities. As recent as Friday, police information is some of these police officers have benefited in the vicinity of $80,000 to facilitate and aid criminals in San Pedro. So, if you’re asking me if rogue police officers are involved, I strongly believe that blood is in the hands of rogue police officers who aid and abetted these criminals,” Aldana said.

When ComPol Williams was questioned about these strong allegations he denied having any knowledge of such.

“I have not heard any such allegations,” ComPol Williams said. “To be honest, I know that, yes, the police out there have been very active going after these players, as well as going after those persons we believe [have] these illegal firearms, and that’s the reason why we’re seeing a great success coming out of San Pedro from the operation unit; but it is not something that we would just dismiss. If the information should come to us, we look at it and see if there’s any credibility to it,” he said.

ComPol Williams said that the department is continuing patrols in the lagoon and the outward parts of the island.

“That is going to continue for as long as we possibly can, even though it’s an expensive venture; but again, to ensure the security of our people, I don’t think that the cost should be an issue for us,” he said.

One of the suspects, Michael Brown, is not known to authorities; however, Christian Espat has a known history of being accused of murders. In 2017, he faced multiple attempted murder charges, in a case where three persons were injured, two of them school children; but he was acquitted of those offenses. Then in 2019, he was held and questioned about the double murder of American tourist Dr. Gary Swank and local tour guide Mario Graniel; but he was later released from police custody.

ComPol Williams noted that Espat frequently travels to the Western part of the country when he is implicated in crimes of this magnitude.