As an investigation continues in the Caribbean, the fly fishing communities in the U.S. and Belize are mourning after twin slayings that occurred on what appeared to be a routine guide trip on Sunday, June 23, 2019 in a shallow lagoon near San Pedro, Belize.
The homicides took place when Virginia cardiologist Dr. Gary Paul Swank, 53, went on a late-morning fly fishing trip with Mario Nestle Graniel, Jr., also 53, in the shallow waters near San Pedro. Less than two hours later, police were summoned to the area by a report of a shooting, soon discovering the lifeless bodies of both men.
The fly angler and guide were reportedly attacked as a boat sped by Graniel’s skiff. Graniel was found in his vessel, while Swank was found floating in the water a short distance away, both men having suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Media reports indicate that the bodies of the two men were transported to a local clinic and then on to a morgue in Belize City where autopsies were conducted.
Swank, a well-liked interventional cardiologist at the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., is described as an avid fly fisherman, visiting local Virginia waters, spots in Alaska, and saltwater destinations to fish for everything from pike to tarpon.
Media reports indicate that he had arrived in Belize on Saturday, June 22, 2019, along with his wife and three school-aged children.
On Monday, the Carilion Clinic issued a statement about Swank’s loss:
“Today we learned the tragic news that Dr. Gary Swank, interventional cardiologist, medical director of Carilion Clinic’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab and an associate professor of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, was found murdered, along with his local tour guide, in Belize yesterday.
“We are heartbroken at his loss. Dr. Swank was a well-respected and well-loved colleague who, each and every day, embodied the values that we hold dear. His absence leaves a void in our team and in our community. Our thoughts, prayers and attention are now focused on helping his family navigate this difficult time.”
A day later on Tuesday, Swank’s family issued a statement as well:
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our incredible husband and devoted father Gary Swank, M.D., who we will forever cherish.
His senseless murder has left us to mourn a purposeful life ended too soon.
“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.
“We are grateful for the overwhelming love shown by family, friends, patients and strangers. For the countless prayers, flowers, and phone calls – thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
The investigation into the double homicides continues as this is written with News5 Belize reporting on Wednesday that local police had detained a woman described as “…very close to Graniel.” And on Thursday, June 27, 2019, media reports began to surface that authorities were seeking a male suspect for questioning in the slayings.
At the moment, authorities believe Graniel had some sort of dispute with a local gang figure. Graniel's home had reportedly been shot at a day or so before the fatal shootings took place. Authorities also have reportedly indicated that they do not believe that Swank was an intended target, but instead was “collateral damage” in the shooting.
While the general thought of many is that Belize is a relatively safe destination for fishing expeditions, there has been a wave of violent crime in recent days that has included the execution style slayings of five men at sea in what authorities believe was a drug related incident.
The country does have a U.S. State Department issued Level 2 travel advisory (Link: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/belizetravel-advisory.html ), an advisory that urges visitors to be more vigilant than normal, particularly in certain gang prone areas of the Caribbean nation.
That advisory is a part of the State Department’s four level travel advisory system which includes Level 1 (exercise normal precautions), Level 2 (exercise increased caution), Level 3 (reconsider travel), and Level 4 (do not travel).