A Roanoke doctor killed in Belize was not an intended target when he and his fishing guide were fatally shot Sunday, Belize authorities said.
Dr. Gary P. Swank, a cardiologist at Carilion Clinic, and a local guide, Mario Graniel, were found dead in a lagoon near the town of San Pedro.
Police believe Graniel had “had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figure in San Pedro,” Commissioner Chester Williams of the Belize Police Department told reporters Monday, according to audio of the news conference shared with The Roanoke Times by the editor of The San Pedro Sun newspaper.
Williams told reporters that Graniel’s home had been shot at on Friday. He said police detained people they thought were responsible but said Graniel, 53, had not shown up at the police station to make a report.
“We maintained police presence in the area to protect him and the community from further shootings. But we cannot follow … him wherever he goes,” Williams said, according to the audio. “He decided to go out with a tourist. We don’t have a boat to follow him. We cannot put police on every tour guide boat. … I don’t see what else we could have done.”
“Is it safe to say, then, that Mr. Swank, I believe the name is, is the victim of circumstance in this case?” a reporter asked.
“The tourist? … Yeah,” Williams said. “That is surely the case. And it is so unfortunate.”
Swank, 53, had traveled to the country with his wife and young children on Saturday.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our incredible husband and devoted father Gary Swank, M.D., who we will forever cherish,” the family said in a statement released by Carilion on Tuesday.
“His senseless murder has left us to mourn a purposeful life ended too soon,” said the statement, which noted that the family would not be doing media interviews. “Gary was an incredibly driven individual, both professionally and personally, and we were blessed to have been a part of his life. His death will be felt throughout the community, as he was a physician, caregiver, teacher, mentor, avid outdoorsman, neighbor, colleague, and friend to many.”
Swank was an avid fly fisherman, his siblings said, and he traveled often when not working.
Williams, the police commissioner, told a San Pedro Sun reporter on Tuesday that police had identified a suspect in the killings, according to audio shared by the paper. He said police were working closely with the U.S. embassy.
At Monday’s news conference, Williams said he had appointed teams of investigators to look into the double homicide in San Pedro, as well as the shootings of at least three Belize City fishermen whose bodies were recovered last week.
“At the end of the day we believe that the families of those persons who have died deserve closure and deserve justice, and so, as a police department we are going to ensure that we do our part,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner’s office said Wednesday it couldn’t comment on the investigation and referred questions to the U.S. State Department. A State Department spokeswoman referred questions about the investigation to the Belize government.