According to the San Pedro Sun, local police said in an official statement that the two victims, both 53 years old, went fishing on a small boat in the morning, when they were attacked from another boat that passed by them.
Police said they responded to reports of the incident at around 11:30 a.m. that morning and discovered Gary Paul Swank—a cardiologist and medical director at the Carilion Clinic in Virginia—floating face down in a lagoon with a number of gunshot wounds.
Meanwhile, his tour guide from Belize, Mario Nestle Jr. Graniel, was found dead in the boat with several gunshot wounds, officials announced.
— WOKV News (@WOKVNews) 25 June 2019
“Initial police investigation revealed that about 10:00 a.m., Mario Graniel and Gary Paul Swank went fly fishing within the San Pedro Town lagoon, when a dark color skiff passed by and opened fire on the boat that Mario Graniel and Gary Paul Swank were in, as a result causing their injuries,” authorities told the news outlet.
The pair were taken to the San Pedro Polyclinic where they were both pronounced dead. They were then taken to the Belize City morgue to undergo a post mortem examination.
According to WDBJZ, Swank’s colleagues said the doctor was in Belize on holiday with his wife and three children, and he loved to fish.
Officials told the San Pedro Sun they believe the attackers were targeting the tour guide, Graniel, as they had responded to reports of a shooting by an unknown gunman outside his apartment complex a day before the fatal attack.
Chris Turnbull, director of corporate communications with Carilion Clinic, said in a statement he was “heartbroken,” and described the 53-year-old as a “well-respected” and “well-loved” colleague.
“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,” Turnbull added.
An investigation is currently underway by authorities to determine exactly what happened, San Pedro police said.
Last week, the #UnitedStates State Dept. set the travel advisory of #Belize 🇧🇿 at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, due to crime. Reports says sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies and murder are common, often gang-related. @IntellFusion #LatinAmerica pic.twitter.com/MMh7z3szpM
— Intelligence Fusion- South America (@IFSouthAmerica) 8 January 2019
This year, Belize was ranked fourth by WorldAtlas.com among countries with the highest murder rates in the world.
According to the site, Belize has a murder rate of 44.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, and local police are focusing on reducing the murder rate for 2019.
Last year, a total of 143 murders were recorded in the popular tourist destination, one higher than 2017, BBN reported.
In January this year, the U.S. State Department increased Belize’s travel advisory to a Level 2, which urges tourists to remain alert to “heightened risks to safety and security,” especially in the southern areas of Belize City.
Take a dive in this blue hole off the coast of Belize 🇧🇿 pic.twitter.com/PGlbkIEJFJ
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) 5 June 2019
It said the travel alert was raised for the region because of violent crime, including “sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies and murder,” much of which is gang-related.