Peder with a D

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Archive for July 22nd, 2009

Gunshots in Punta Gorda

Posted by Peder on 22 July 2009

I wasn’t sleeping well anyway so the racket didn’t wake me up. In fact, among the various crashes, loud noises and blaring car stereos along Main St. this particular rumble wasn’t really that loud. But it was distinctive. Something had crashed into the metal garage-style security door that the shop owner rolls down each night to close off the main entrance to his store. Some glass shattered. I rolled over and peeked my head up to look out the second story window behind my bed that looked out onto the street. I picked my glasses off the night stand. Footsteps hurried as a gunshot rang out. Two figures came flying by my frame of reference as another shot rang out. They were running left to right. Near the right (south) side of my building one of them ducked between it and the building next door presumably disappearing into the yard behind our house and the store beneath us. The other runner kept running down the street. A police officer appeared next to the left as he followed the two young men who had just past. He carried a small pistol in his right hand. As he approached the point were the two had split up, he gave a wary glance into the small alleyway but ultimately continued down the street.

Moments passed. They may have been minutes. By this point the other guy sleeping the room, Harry, was awake and watching the scene unfold with me. He had been woken by the gunshots. A police car came in from the right side, lights spinning but without a siren. Didn’t seem like he had seen that second runner. A police officer appeared from the left. He looked an awful lot like the first cop that gave chase, but by reappearing so quickly where he did, he must have circled the block awfully quickly. Maybe he found a little alleyway too. In any case, he hadn’t seen either of the two men he was chasing. (The houses and shops in this area of town are packed relatively close together, but the fences don’t always match or completely encircle each property. Meanwhile there are a bunch of trees and houses, and half-built and half-fallen down buildings. There are a lot of places to hide.) By this point the two new officers had gotten out of their car and joined the first officer on the street directly under my window. One carried a shotgun and the other had a pistol. They split up to search.

As it turns out, I would be the first person to find one of the burglars. I stepped out of my room to check the locks on the front and back doors. There’s a large balcony/veranda surrounding the house which is accessed by these two doors and the stairs to one section extend down to near where the first man ran. As I approached the front door I saw him. I stopped dead in my tracks. He was lying on the cement floor staring out toward the street through the pillars of the railing. Hardly more than the top of his head would be visible from the street, but I saw all of him. He was watching the officer patrolling the lot across the way. I quickly went back into my room and told Harry what I saw. We decided to flick the bedroom lights on and off to get the cop’s attention. Meanwhile I snuck back toward the front door and yelled in my loudest, deepest voice, “GET OUTTA HERE! JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!”

Actually I couldn’t see the guy any more which spooked me further. I went back to the home owner’s bedroom to wake him. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t up already with all the noise, but it turned out I needed to give him a pretty good shake to get him up. He was sleeping a lot better than I had been.

“Jerry,” I said, “we have a situation. There were gunshots, I think there was a robbery next door and one of the guys in on the front veranda.”

He got right up and walked toward the front door. He picked up the machete he kept by the front door.

“That’s what this is for,” he remarked.

He picked it up and walked right up to the window that looked onto the veranda. The window where I had first seen the man. Turns out he had moved to right underneath the window such that you had be standing right next to it to see him.

“Get the f*** off my porch,” demanded Jerry.

“There are guys shooting at me,” said the intruder, who turned out to be a young man around 18-20 years old.

“I don’t care,” responded Jerry, “go tell that cop down there.”

So the boy stood up, raised his hands and told the officer he was coming down. I followed out onto the balcony and saw him kneeling while the cop put handcuffs on him.

The other officers returned and they interrogated the boy. They brought him back to the police station which was only a block away. Then they returned and continued the search for the other suspect in our backyard, presumably based on info from the first guy. Yikes. The three of us watched from various points on the veranda for another 20 minutes or so, but that was the last of the action. Couple of flashlight beams here and there, a random dog barking, and eventually the police car carrying a couple officers back to the neighborhoods behind us said the search was still on, but I’m not sure how it ended. I hope they caught the other runner.

This would be spooky enough in isolation, but unfortunately there’s been an increasing number of recent burglaries. A few weeks back a tour operator managed by a friend was broken into. They lost a laptop and cash. On Monday some other friends’ house was robbed as the two were out to dinner around 8pm. That was spooky because the assailants came in through the front door which is very exposed to the street. At 8pm. Word on the street was there were a lot of robberies that night. A helicopter with a large search light was even brought in to comb the area. And just today that very same Harry I mentioned was assaulted by a masked teenager who threatened like he had a gun in his belt while Harry was teaching a classroom full of summer camp kids learning about the environment. That happened about 15 miles out of town in one of the many Mayan villages nearby. It’s safe to say crime is on the rise in Punta Gorda.

Unfortunately the cops can’t seem to do anything about it. Of course, watching the way they handled any of these situations would lead you to believe they really don’t know what they’re doing — or don’t care. The refrigerator in that tour operator was left open by the burglars, but the cops didn’t even go near it as they dusted the office for finger prints. The case on my friend’s house is hung up because the officers don’t know how to fill out some of the reports that need to be filed. The case is being transferred to a precinct in the capital city for that very reason and none of us are holding our breath for it to be resolved. And even though the cops have three eyewitnesses to the incident that required two rounds to be fired from a gun, none of us have been asked to give a report.

Welcome to Punta Gorda, the wild wild South of Belize. Come armed.


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