A Virginia doctor was gunned down with his tour guide while on vacation in Belize, according to local authorities.
Gary Swank was visiting the Central American country with his family. He had been on a fishing boat with local guide Mario Graniel when they were both shot dead, Belize Police Commissioner Chester Williams said in a press conference Monday recorded by the San Pedro Sun newspaper.
In the recording, Williams said the tour guide had a disagreement with a local gang kingpin, and agrees that Swank was a “victim of circumstance.”
Graniel had earlier reported to police that someone fired shots at his home on Friday, but he never filed a formal complaint, Williams said.
“We maintain police presence in the area to protect him and the community from further shootings but we can’t follow the man everywhere he goes,” he said. “He decided to go out with a tourist.”
“We did what we could have done in terms of detaining those who we believe were responsible and maintaining presence in the area where he lived.”
The government of Belize is working closely with the Belize Police Department to support the investigation, according to spokesman Dorian Pakeman.
“The Government of Belize is deeply saddened by the deaths of Dr. Gary Swank and Mr. Mario Graniel. Our hearts go out to their families and friends,” he told CNN.
He said “crime against tourists has been and remains very rare.”
Swank was ‘a well-respected and well-loved colleague’
Swank was the medical director of Carilion Clinic cardiac catheterization lab and an associate professor of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, according to a statement from the clinic. The school is in Roanoke, Virginia, about 170 miles west of Richmond.
“Dr. Swank was a well-respected and well-loved colleague who, each and every day, embodied the values that we hold dear,” the statement reads. “His absence leaves a void in our team and in our community.”
Swank’s patients were devastated to hear of his death.
“He saved my life, and every time I went to his office he was a very knowledgeable, patient and caring person,” Teresa Hodges, who was Swank’s patient for 13 years, told CNN affiliate WSLS-TV. “He’s part of my life.”
Rhonda Saunders, a 10-year patient of Swank’s, told CNN affiliate WFXR-TV he made a huge difference in her life. He was very talented, thorough and approachable, she told WFXR.
“I was stunned, I was shocked, I had tears because I was so excited about seeing him at my next visit,” Saunders said.
US Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia offered his thoughts and prayers to the Swank family in a statement to CNN saying his office is coordinating with the State Department “to ensure they are in touch with their Belizean counterparts regarding Dr. Swank’s death and are closely monitoring the local investigation.”
US Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he was “horrified to hear about the tragic death.”
“Our office has been in touch with the State Department,” Kaine said.
US Rep. Ben Cline of Virginia also released a statement to CNN saying: “I ask all Virginians to remember Dr. Swank’s wife and children as they deal with this unthinkable tragedy.”
CNN’s Electra Frelinghuysen, Tatiana Arias and Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this report.