A Belize gang shot an America doctor, officials said Tuesday. Well-known Virginia physician, Dr. Gary Swank was shot dead along with his tour guide who was targeted by the gang member in the country of Belize.
Dr. Gary Swank, 53, was an interventional cardiologist at the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia. Swank also taught at Virginia Tech’s medical school, per NBC News.
According to the San Pedro Sun, Swank and the tour guide, 53-year-old Mario Nestor Graniel Jr., were gunned down Sunday afternoon.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Dr. Swank & Graniel Were in the Midst of a Fly-Fishing Trip When They Were Killed
Both Swank and Graniel were shot and killed while they were in the middle of a fly-fishing trip. They were on the leeward side of Ambergris Caye – an island on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Belize mainland – when the shots were fired, per the San Pedro Sun.
The incident took place just after 11:30AM, according to reports. Swank and Graniel were on a private fishing tour.
Officials responded to reports on the western side of the island. That is where they found the lifeless bodies of both Dr. Swank and Mario Graniel.
2. Reports Say a Dark-Colored Boat Drove by as Shots Were Fired upon Graniel & Dr. Swank
Although investigations are still ongoing, officials have said that a dark-colored skiff carried the person or persons who opened fire on Swank and Graniel, per the San Pedro Sun.
The San Pedro Sun also reports that city officials and leaders have remained quiet about the death. Outside of the initial police report, no other local government authorities have spoken up about the tragic incident.
According to CNN, Belize Police Commissioner Chester Williams said Dr. Swank was a victim of circumstance in a recording obtained by the San Pedro Sun. Williams also mentioned that Graniel had been feuding with a local drug kingpin, which most likely led to the shooting.
3. Dr. Swank & Graniel’s Murder Is the Seventh of the Year on Ambergris Caye
According to the San Pedro Sun, the murder of Swank and Graniel is the seventh of the year on Admiral Caye.
The island has made up for 10% of the murders in the entire country of Belize. There have been 70 murders in Belize so far this year, and the US Department of State has issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Belize, due to ‘violent crime,’ such as sexual, assault, home invasions, armed robberies, and murder.
On the national level, Leader of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Honorable John Briceño, issued a statement regarding the rampant murders that have been committed so far this year.
“The People’s United Party is once again expressing great concern about the continuing senseless violence across our nation. The PUP holds the Barrow Administration completely responsible for yet another six months in which the general law-abiding citizenry continues to be paralyzed by crime,” the statement said.
4. Dr. Swank Traveled to Belize with His Wife & Children
According to WSLS, neighbors said that Dr. Swank was traveling with his wife and school-aged children. His family released a statement regarding the loss of the interventional cardiologist.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our incredible husband and devoted father Gary Swank, M.D., who we will forever cherish,” said the statement which was released on Tuesday.
Chris Turnbull, director of corporate communications with Carilion Clinic, the practice Dr. Swank worked at released the following statement:
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.
5. Dr. Swank Touched Many Lives during His Time in Roanoke, Virginia
As a doctor, Swank developed many different relationships throughout his community. Teresa Swanson was a patient under Swanks for 13 years, per WSLS.
“He saved my life and everytime I went to his office he was a very knowledgeable, patient and caring person,” Hodges said. “He’s part of my life.”
Other community members took to social media to express the gratitude for Dr. Swank’s life and service.
“Dr. Swank was a wonderful cardiologist. He took excellent care of my husband and I,” Cindy Jones wrote on Facebook, according to WSLS. “I can’t believe this, this is such a shock and loss for our area.”
Congressman Ben Cline and both Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also offered their condolences to Swank’s family.
Authorities are still investigating the incident that left Dr. Swank and Graniel dead.