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Three girls perished in a fire at the youth hostel on Saturday - and tonight, we're all still grappling to come to terms with the tragedy. It's the second serious fire there in eight months - and the third in five years - but this one is different because three girls, one 14 and two 16, were burnt to death inside their small room. We'll have every detail on the fire tonight, and a breakdown of all that went wrong that led to their cruel deaths - but first we turn our attention to their families.
14 year old Elizabeth Mckoy, and 16 year old Shadisha Arnold and Anna Carlos were in the hostel as troubled girls - but their families never could have expected their lives to end in a burning dorm building. Today, Courtney Weatherburne spoke to the mothers of the deceased:...
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
It is among all this scorched debris that the young girls' bodies were found huddled in a corner.
The beds they once slept in are now blackened iron frames stacked against each other.
The clothes they once wore are now tossed on the ground - tattered and singed.
And the Science and Math Books they once read and studied from are now ripped apart and frayed.
The only thing remaining are these charred cement partitions …and the horrific memory of the lives that were lost in the fire.
It's a memory the families of Ana Carlos, Elizabeth Mckay and Shadisha Arnold will have to live with forever. Arnold's mother was the first we spoke with on the scene on Saturday evening.
Audrey Arnold, Mother of Shadisha Arnold "I want to know why they couldn't open the door to get the children out of the building. Because they called us and told us about the fire. Apart from that we don't know anything else about the fire. My brother-in-law called me and told me about the fire."
Jules Vasquez "So what do you know at this point?"
Audrey Arnold, Mother of Shadisha Arnold "We don't know anything. All they say is that the bodies were still burning. That's all. Nobody came to me and told me anything."
And so today Arnold and the other family members went searching for answers.
Courtney Weatherburne "When was she sent to the Youth Hostel?"
Patricia Trujillo, Mother of Ana Carlos "When she was 15 years old she went to the hostel."
Courtney Weatherburne "Tell us more information about your daughter. Why was she sent there? Did you sent her to the Youth Hostel?"
Patricia Trujillo, Mother of Ana Carlos "Because she was misbehaving and she likes to run away from my sister, so we just decide to let her go there."
Courtney Weatherburne "When was the last time you spoke with her or you saw Ana?"
Patricia Trujillo, Mother of Ana Carlos "A year ago when she ran away and came to look for me at my house and the next day they found her and they took her back."
Courtney Weatherburne "So she has run away from the Youth Hostel before?"
Patricia Trujillo, Mother of Ana Carlos "Yes. About 7 times she ran away."
"I want to know why they locked her up and they didn't have anyone to watch over them. They should have had somebody to watch them if they locked them up - some guard or someone to be there to see what they were doing. I really don't know how I will continue on with the loss of my daughter. I love my daughter. They took her away from me. They sent her there and I couldn't do anything." [Crying]
Victoria Mckoy Claunch, Mother of Elizabeth Mckoy "My little angel, she was smart, sweet and beautiful. She was my everything. I was blessed the day I was conceived with that little angel. She was so smart and beautiful and I was so worried that she like to take her little walk and then I don't know. God is our everything. So I don't know why I turned to Human Services. I don't know why I did it, but I gave it a try. Then she was with them and then she ran away to me and she told me all these crazy things and then I found out that some of these things were true and so I decide to keep her home. But every time I keep her, they bring force with the police to come and take her. Every time, every time and then I am so sorry I took her there. Because she was loved and she had everything she needed. So I am sorry my baby Liz. I am so sorry. Then she got burned. I am so sorry that I put her there. She was my everything."
Courtney Weatherburne "When was the last time you actually saw her?"
Victoria Mckoy Claunch, Mother of Elizabeth Mckoy "I saw her the last time thank God, because they put her at a different institution and every time I go and ask to see my baby, "oh no, don't go there." I don't know why they didn't want me to see my baby. Thank God she was at somewhere in Belize City and she needed some kind of assistance with something and she said "mommy I am here, come and see me." on Thursday this week and thank God I got to see her."
Charles Galvez, Uncle of Elizabeth Mckoy "My niece had been burnt up. But I don't think that the institution intentionally did that. An error occurred and you should also look at the people who were there at the time when this incident happened. We should not crucify them as they are evil people. Something went wrong. There is no way that those persons who were there at the time wanted this to happen."
Of note that is that 14-year-old Elizabeth McKoy's mother voluntarily put her into care of the Human Services Department and she had been at the hostel for two weeks. A police officer is currently on remand for an offence against her. The other 16 year olds were there at the order of the court.
So, now to the sequence of events that led to their deaths, and the various breakdowns in procedure that resulted in three girls padlocked in a room with a lighter. The three girls were part of a group of four who had escaped the day before and were recovered by Hattieville police. When they were taken back to the hostel, they were confined for 24 hours to their dorm room, and denied privileges.
On Saturday two female guards were in charge of 30 girls: one was supervising recreation and the other was in the dorm building - the same one with the girls that burnt down. That wooden building - which is a temporary structure has four small rooms and the common area. The other girl who had escaped, a 12 year old was in another one of those rooms, while the security guard was in the common area. That's the background to the disaster that unfolded around 2:30. Jules Vasquez was on the scene:...
Jules Vasquez reporting
At 2:29 pm - Hattieville police received notice of a fire in progress at the youth hostel.
When Police got there 10 minutes later, the building - a wooden female dorm - was already engulfed in flames.
The Fire department arrived just before 3:00 pm - but could not get their pumps working.
When we got to the youth Hostel at 3:30 this girl was on the roof - a lone figure, getting prepared it seems to jump off the two story building. She was crying and an obvious extreme distress.
Within seconds a hostel boy and girl came and held her - they put her to lie down, and can be seen trying to calm her down.
Shortly after two of the boys carried her away, off the roof to safety - she appeared to have fainted.
Inside the building we could hear all hell breaking loose - glass shattering, shouting, and more than a few of the youths on the roof.
The entire place was in a traumatized uproar because three girls had perished here inside this building.
The three of them were reduced to a little more than ash as they huddled here, between the locked grill door and the bunk bed where the fire started.
The entire ordeal started the day before when they ran way: 14 year old Elizabeth McKoy, and 16 year old's Shadisha Arnold (16yrs old), Anna Carlos (16 yrs old):
Starla Bradley, Director Community Rehabilitation Department "Upon their return, they were confined to one of three rooms in the building being used to house the female residence at the Youth Hostel. This meant that because they had recently run away, they would be kept in their rooms for a 24 hour period and would lose certain privileges. Three of the girls of went "awol" the day before were presumable planning another escape. The plan was to start the fire in order to create a distraction. This would prompt the officer to open the door and let them out and they would ran away while the officers were occupied trying to out the fire."
"Shortly after 2:00 pm one of the girls, one of the three girls who was confined in the room called out to the officer and said that one of the three girls in the room had lit a pillow and there was a fire. Now we are not certain how quickly the girls called for help. But from the various accounts we received, the fire was already in a huge blaze on the top bunk when the officer went to the room to check on the girls. This was corroborated by some of the female residents who were in the building along with the officer at the time. The officer then proceeded to try to open the padlock which was on the door. But had difficulty opening the lock. The girls inside started to panic and in an effort to try to out the fire, the girl who it is said had started the fire threw a blanket on top of the flame and this fed the fire. All accounts are that the fire spread very quickly and since the room is small, the smoke soon engulfed the entire room, making it difficult for them to see. The second officer was called from the basketball court and she came in and took the keys from the other officer and also attempted to open the door. She stated that she could not because the smoke was too heavy and sent for a flashlight."
"Meanwhile the staff and the male residents used buckets and fire extinguishers that they had on hand to try to calm the blaze. Some persons attempted to break through the wooden wall at the back of the building. By the time they had broken through, the fire had already engulfed the building and the children could not be saved."
A tragic, unthinkable outcome - and it all happened because the door was locked when it should not have been:
Starla Bradley, Director Community Rehabilitation Department "That is one of the things that we are trying to ascertain, why the room was actually locked because it's actually against institutional policy to lock the children in for these same safety issues. It's against protocol"
Reporter "There are allegations that that padlock had been giving trouble, previously, to open, from a long time ago. What can you say about that?"
Starla Bradley "That issue was just brought to our attention after the fire and in listening to some of the conversations, if that was the case it was not reported and that's one of the things we're trying to figure out what happened as well."
"We are still trying to sort through what exactly happened. Was it a case of the lock being faulty, was it a case of not being able to locate the key, was it that nerves and the issue of the smoke played into difficulties opening - we have so many questions that we're still trying to figure out at this time."
"We know that we have worked hard to develop protocols, we have done a lot of training with staff - and so the question is you know why do we still have locks, locked, padlock locks on the door and so it certainly does raise a lot of questions that we need to figure out quickly."
Reporter "Inside of the room they were alone unsupervised. We are dealing with mentally, emotionally imbalanced kids here. Shouldn't have someone been in there with them?"
Starla Bradley "The way it is structured, it's a very small building that has 3 rooms. There was an officer in the building with the girls and the responsibility of the officer is usually to do checks - periodic checks and make sure that all the girls in their care are safe and not getting into things that they shouldn't."
And there was another critical breakdown - when one of the girls was not searched - which enabled her to carry a lighter inside:
Jules Vasquez "One of the girls had something to start a fire and supposedly she smuggled this in there. Do you know the details of that and was there a breakdown in search procedures that enabled her to go inside with something that could start a fire?"
Starla Bradley "That is the question and quite possibly so, because that is considered contraband. They should never have that type of equipment. They should have been searched upon entering - thoroughly searched by a female officer and along the lines there are some things that did not follow procedure and that is what we are trying to ascertain - where along the lines, who should have done what and where that fell through."
An investigation will be conducted to find out where the other breakdowns occurred:
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "What we fully intend to do is a full investigation of this matter, because what we need to be able to deal with this matter is the clear unvarnished truth about what happened."
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez, Minister of Human Dev. "I know that the instinct is for an overnight resolution, but we need to be deliberate and thorough in our actions to be able to get a full understanding of what occur."
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "We cannot dwell on conjecture or hearsay. We need to really at what has happened in the cold sober light of day."
Former magistrate and director of family court Margaret Nicholas of the NCFC will lead the independent investigation
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "She will call it like she sees it that is. That is her reputation."
But, the hostel itself needs healing now:
Starla Bradley "This is a terribly traumatic experience for the children and staff who were present at the time of the incident and of course for the families. We have since called in some additional counselors to come in and do crisis management. We are also drawing from support of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health as we try to provide psychological support for our children, the families of the victims and our staff." [Crying]
Three staffers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
As regards the independent investigation, UNICEF will provide technical oversight.
And as we noted in the story, the building that burned is the temporary female dorm - a new one is being built and it should be finished in a month or two.
On Saturday night -to allay the concerns of parents who have children in the hostel, Minister Martinez signed warrants to allow 14 of them to return home. So, the female population at the hostel is now around 15. The institution still faces abundant challenges - not least of which is increasing anti-social behavior and mental health issues appearing in Belizean youth. In the last segment of our newscast - you'll hear director of Community rehabilitation Starla Braldey discuss that. Plus, she answers the question of whether she should resign in the wake of what's happened.
But, that's later - right now the families are preparing to bury their loved ones. But they have no intact bodies, just burnt remains. Fortunately, police and the forensic examiner have been able to piece together whose body is whose. Superintendent Romero explained:
Supt. Hilberto Romero, OC CIB - Eastern Division "We have recovered 3 bodies which was taken to the morgue. Presently the doctor is working with the families to try identify the bodies and we have conducted a full and thorough investigation. We have formulated a task force. We are recording statements, conducting interviews and a file will be put together to determine if anyone is to be held accountable."
And while police have their work to do - to hear most people tell it - the fire department just didn't do theirs. In fact, in our story we said their pump wasn't working. Well, the fire department disputes that. The pump on two trucks did work - four about four minutes - to get the fire under control. But, the Fire Station manager says that by the time they reached the scene at 3:05 - it was too late:...
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "On arrival at the scene at 3:05pm the roof of the structure was observed already collapse and the fire was in a free burning phase. We got into operation to extinguish the fire. The fire was later brought under control and extinguished."
Jules Vasquez "Now sir the criticism is the inevitable arises that you all arrived late. That you all took an hour to arrive after the fire started. Explain to me the tight sequence."
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "We responded at the time of the call."
Jules Vasquez "Which was?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "2:34pm. between here and Hattieville, there was an approximate 13-15 speed bumps. The truck has to slow down at each of these speed bumps. Otherwise it will burst the tanks holding the water and when we arrive on the scene, we will just have a truck. It took us about half an hour from here to arrive on the scene and the time of arrival the roof of the structure had already collapsed and the fire was in the free burning phase."
Jules Vasquez "From the theory about how fire spreads in a small room like what they were in, would they have first succumb to the smoke in the natural course and then eventually their unconscious bodies would have been taken by the fire?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "In that close compartment - not likely. They would not have been overcome by smoke in that shortness of time and the quickness of the fire development."
Jules Vasquez "They would have first been consumed by the fire?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "They may have been weaken, but would probably still be alive by the time when that occurred."
Jules Vasquez "So, most likely the fire consumed them alive unconscious?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "Yup."
And while this is a terrible fire tragedy, it's not the worst we've seen. In 2001, 7 children between the ages of 9 months and 13 years old burnt inside a trailer home in the Belama area of Belize City. Since then, we've reported on other cases where two or three children have perished in at least four other fires. In almost all those cases the fires were started by candles in homes without electricity. In this case - the girls - all wards of the state were locked inside a small room where one of them set a fire.
But, back to the fire department - when we were there - the fire pumps were not working and we saw firemen toting five gallon bottles of water and hauling water buckets. Smith explained that after they emptied the fire truck tanks of the 700 gallons that the trucks carry, they had a hard time pumping water from a nearby stream:
Jules Vasquez "I observed that you all were having great difficulties. I saw some fire men with buckets. I saw one with a 5 gallon bottle of water and I saw you were out there having great difficulties with the pump. What was the situation?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "After depleting the water at the scene, we went to find an open source to fill back the tank and the area we went at, the water was a bit shallow and pump "cavitate" - meaning it was picking up sediments. So we had difficulty getting a sustain draft to replenish the tank. We had done a number of different trials including trying to force-span the vehicle, but to no avail."
Jules Vasquez "So you all were unable to make your pump work?"
Orin Smith, Station Manager, BNFS "Yeah. Eventually we had a 3rd truck brought on scene and put out the remaining spot fires."
The Fire Department has recommended that a fire hydrant be installed at the hostel. There was a major fire there in March of this year, and in February of 2011- Both were found to be arson, and both set by the female population. No one was hurt in either case.
We've already told you all about the Fire at the Youth Hostel where 3 girls perished. Well, the other big story which happened this weekend was the very first visit of Guatemalan President Elect Jimmy Morales.
He hasn't officially taken office as yet, but he's already well-known to Belizeans. That's because during his election campaign, he called it "deplorable" that Guatemala was quote, "about to lose Belize" and said Guatemala should quote "fight for that territory or part of that territory."
So, when the Government confirmed on Friday evening that he was indeed making a courtesy call on the Prime Minister, Belizeans closely following the territorial dispute took a keen interest to see how it would play out. Daniel Ortiz locked in on the Morales mission from Friday night at nine, and stayed locked until Saturday at noon. Here's his story:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
On Friday night, the media waited for Guatemalan President Elect Jimmy Morales here at the entrance to the Radisson Hotel.
Several police officers, and a few officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also on standby.
3 hours passed before there was any sign that Morales would actually be arriving in Belize City.
Closer to midnight, high ranking police officers from Eastern Division North arrived at the hotel to verify that the security that the department was providing was airtight.
They made it clear that the media was not permitted to approach Jimmy Morales because he was not granting any interviews.
Just after midnight, his convoy arrived, after traveling from the Corozal Border. They zipped into the parking lot, and the police quickly moved to shut the gate. Our camera could just barely make out the President Elect and his fellow diplomats entering the Hotel's lobby.
Then, on Saturday morning, at around 8:00, an hour before his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow, activists, Geovanni Brackett, Wil Maheia, Yaya Marin Coleman, Rosalie Staines and Patrick Rogers were camped out in front of the Prime Minister's Coney Drive Office.
Once again, there was heavy police presence, and they directed how close these protestors or the press could approach.
After about 50 minutes of waiting, the first police officer from the escort pulled up to signal that Morales and the other Guatemalan delegates were on the way.
It was at that moment that Brackett bolted away from the officers, placard in hand. Police set chase to stop him from approaching the diplomatic convoy. Then, as if it had been planned, Brackett's attempt gave Yaya Marin the distraction she needed to dive past the other cops. She quickly threw herself on the pavement in front of the incoming vehicle in the Guatemalan Convoy. GSU personnel along with another officer swopped in, grabbed her by an arm and a leg each and hauled her away. That black SUV which Yaya blocked then sped into the parking lot, closely followed by this grey SUV, which was the vehicle that Morales was actually in.
As he got out, our camera finally caught a glimpse of him entering of the building.
Back on the front entrance, the police were agitated by the Brackett/Yaya stunt. Their disobedience had caused an incident and clearly upset the officers, who pushed Brackett to the ground. They called over a police mobile, and ordered Brackett to get in.
Yaya Marin "If you take him, you would have to take me."
Reporter "Geovannie, tell us what happened?"
Geovannie Brackett - Protester "Just fighting for my rights."
He was then taken away to the Queen Street Police Station.
Shortly after that, more police stepped up to push back all the cameras waiting at the locked side entrance. It appeared to be a very deliberate attempt to frustrate the media in trying to do its job.
About 20 minutes later, the meeting was over, and Morales and his entourage of diplomats raced back into their vehicles which then took off.
At the front entrance, the GSU formed a line determined to block anyone who would want to approach this time around. Patrick Rogers made his attempt, but he was quickly tackled and pushed away.
That gave the Guatemalan Convoy enough time to speed down Coney Drive, with the GSU bringing up the rear. That was the conclusion of what turned out to be a brief, strange courtesy call on Prime Minister Barrow.
As you saw in our story, only 5 protesters showed up to demonstrate against the Morales visit. You also saw that radical protest action that Yaya Marin Coleman made when she threw herself in front of a moving vehicle.
COLA President Geovannie Brackett ended up being hauled off by police to the Queen Street Police station - but he wasn't charged. Shortly after being released around 11:30, we asked him about risking his own freedom when only 4 other people showed up in solidarity. Here's what he had to say:
Geovannie Brackett - Protester "I know individually I had my conviction and I thought that whether it was 10,000 or just 1 person out there, somebody had to make a initial statement to let this - this is an enemy of the state.. Jimmy Morales has claimed this nation and he comes in and get protected by our authorities and being treated VIP."
Wil Maheia, Protester "How much people lives in this city - about 70,000 - 80,000 people and one person has agreed to get arrested. I am just so disappointed in the creoles. You think if this was happening in Orange Walk that you would have had this response? I am sure Chronix or so was out here, out here would be... you know."
Geovannie Brackett - Protester "Environmentalist around the world does these things on a daily basis. Whether it is tying yourself to a tree or something, but I think that our culture needs to be shaken. Hence the reason why we did what we did."
Brackett disagrees with his fellow advocate Wil Maheia on the lack of support. His take on it is that the Belize City residents were not given due notice of Morales's arrival.
The Belize Progressive Party, led by Patrick Rogers, who was out protesting on Saturday has released a statement criticizing the police for the force used to restrain Yaya Marin-Coleman and Geovannie Brackett.
The statement says, quote, "The manner of force exhibited has no place in domestic law enforcement, in particular, when dealing with unarmed-peaceful protesters!" End quote.
While President Elect Morales' arrival had a hostile greeting on Coney Drive, the atmosphere inside the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday morning was friendly and courteous.
A Press release from the government says, quote,
"they both congratulated each other for their respective recent victories at the polls. Prime Minister Barrow and President-elect Morales discussed the bilateral relations between Belize and Guatemala, including a way forward in respect of resolving our historical differences. They agreed to continue along the path set out in the Framework Agreement and Confidence Building Measures of 2005…" End Quote.
That's a lot more passive and diplomatic when compared to Morales' pre and post campaign trail comments concerning the territorial claim. On Saturday, Prime Minister Barrow told the media that he made the point to Morales that as the next president of Guatemala, he must foster the progress in friendly relations that both countries have worked so hard to cultivate:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "It was very cordial. We spoke about the nature of the bi-lateral relations. He indicated that he is committed to working the process. I told him that I appreciated that. He must understand that the pencil of God has no eraser. We are going to be geographically contiguous - we are going to be neighbors forever. There are mechanisms in place. The professional relationship I think is good between the militaries, between our foreign ministries, the people to people interaction is good. There are trade ties. There are ties of commerce. There are educational exchanges. We spoke about the children from Melchor who come across to go to school in Benque and I was very clear that both sides needed to understand that the confidence building measures, the protocols in place and the all-important factor of goodwill - all must be put into the pot, stirred properly to ensure that we avoid flashpoints, to ensure that we can live in peace and good neighborliness respecting each other's sovereignty while the question of dispute or claimed is being resolved by legal means."
So, why the short notice and the GSU media blockade? Well, the Prime Minister said that the Guatemalans requested that this courtesy call be low-key:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "He already walked back from those comments. He walked back from those comments before arriving in Belize and this morning I was quite clear as was he, that we are talking about proceeding on the basis of mutual respect - two sovereign countries operating a set of mechanisms because there is a dispute. But operating both on the basis on individual sovereignty and commitment based on that sovereignty."
Daniel Ortiz "A lot has been made of the late press release from the government and the appearance of secrecy that was involved in his arrival."
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "No. There is no question of any secrecy. We sent out a press release which you will get later. He indicated... well I have also seen the media saying Belize is an afterthought, that he wasn't intending on coming and then just at the last minute. He met with Ambassador Alexis Rosado on the 6th of November. Two days after the elections and from then indicated that Belize was part of the itinerary. I've seen situations before where things are said, people indicate they will come to visit and then it doesn't happen. We were not going to say anything until we had a firm date."
Reporter "In other countries, he was allowed to talk with the press. Why weren't we allowed to talk to him?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "They requested that the visit be low-key and that we not arrange any media."
Reporter "We or they?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Ma'am, it was their indication that they did not wish to speak to the press. I am speaking to the press. That is my obligation. He can decide whether he wants to speak to the press or not."
In the official press release, the Government noted that President Elect Jimmy Morales extended a special and personal invitation to Prime Minister Barrow to his Presidential Inauguration. When we asked him if he will attend, he said that if his health permits, he'll be there:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Health permitting, yes I will go. He sent a personal invitation which had already in fact been foreshadowed by a meeting I had on Wednesday with his ambassador here. But he ask could I make a special effort to go as sending the right signal to back up what we discussed, that both of us must be committed to this peaceful process and to the development of friendly relations."
Morales' Presidential Inauguration takes place on January 14, 2016.
While we were on the topic of diplomacy, the media took the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about Mexican American Fugitive, David Nanes Schnitzer, who has apparently managed to escape from Belizean law enforcement. His case has caused Belize to offend Mexico, it's most friendly and cooperative neighbour to the north.
Overall, it's a major black eye for Belizean law enforcement because it took the cooperation of the US Marshals and the Belize police to capture Schnitzer. He was living on San Pedro under an assumed identity made possible by national identity documents he managed to get through fraud and falsified information.
But, this weekend, the Prime Minister revealed just how serious the multi-agency screw up was. He told us that a few months ago, the Mexican Government made an extradition request for Schnitzer. He explained that the Extradition Treaty Agreement between the two countries was faulty which meant that Schnitzer could not just be handed over by this avenue. From there, everything else went wrong:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "I wasn't here. I knew before I went away that the Mexicans were anxious to get Nanes and we would have loved to simply send him across to Mexico. But we have due process. We have legal requirements that we must follow and in the course of trying to comply with due process requirements in this country, he was taken before the court and the court gave him bail. I have my own views about that determination of the court, but you know in this country we respect judges."
"In deed they have, as I am being informed sent a request for his extradition. It now turns out that while there is an extradition agreement between Belize and Mexico, it was never acted upon. It was never brought into force here in Belize and so that meant that we couldn't keep him on the basis of any extradition warrant. The Mexicans are very upset, understandably so, but we have to follow our rules and requirements. We have to follow due process as I've said. We have to comply with our laws."
Daniel Ortiz "Sir, is it regrettable to you though that in principle, a fugitive has escaped from the confines of Belize or have pays to have escape from the confines from law enforcement in Belize?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Of course it is regrettable. I said I would have wanted us to hand him over from the time he was first found in Belize. But there are court rulings. I am not sure whether it was our government or another administration did something like that and the courts said you can't do that. So we respect the law in this country. I very much regret that we were not able to simply ship him out to the Mexicans, but I do not regret the fact that we choose to follow the law. Even at the whisk of offending our best neighbor. We choose to be true to our culture or legal requirements, our democracy."
Daniel Ortiz "Sir, there has been an issue raised that because this man is such an infamous figure, Belizean authorities ought to have been running some sort of surveillance on him the immediate moment he was bailed."
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "You have to ask the police about that. It was my understanding that that was supposed to have been done. You really need to find out from them how he was able to give them the slip. I am not yet briefed on that. You are perfectly correct. That was the instruction - shadow this man. Because you would have found some other charge or some other basis on the law to detain him again. But he obviously gave police the slip."
So, once again, the Barrow Government is confronted with evidence of corruption at one of the Departments. Schnitzer, who is wanted in Mexico for 42 million dollar in fraud, managed to get every single ID under the assumed name David Banes. While it is most likely that one document allowed the others to be procured through legal means, either his permanent residency or Nationality papers may have been gotten through a backdoor operation at the department.
Even Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse had to concede in the Gazetted revocation of his nationality that Schnitzer was registered, quote, "by means of fraud, false representation and the concealment of material circumstance and by mistake…" End quote.
The Prime Minister said that the revelation is worrying:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "When there are things that make clear that there is obviously a level of collusion not to say corruption on the part of public servants. I don't mean just civil servants. I am talking about everybody in the public service including ministers. When anything happens that demonstrates that things can be done to circumvent the law in consequence of the collusion of persons in authority. That is very distressing, it is very upsetting. Of course we are never going to have a pure society, but it is still - it leaves me extremely distraught."
Reporter "Will there be any investigation at the level of the Ministry of Immigration?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "There is already an investigation. Remember he had nationality and that was revoked."
Reporter "Will there be any investigation going on as to how he got that nationality?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "We know how he got it. That's why the minister revoked it. Because the minister was able to determine that in fact it was improperly had that, documentation support put forward in support of the nationality application was fraudulent. I am sure that every effort will be made to bring before the public service's commission whoever might have been responsible for processing/approving presumably knowingly that false documentation."
Schnitzer jumped bail last week when he did not sign in with San Pedro Police last week Monday as part of the conditions of his release.
On Friday, we told you about the 2 teenagers police arrested for the murder of 47 year-old businessman, Ruben Perez. Their capture was made possible by tips to the police after surveillance footage of the robbery turned murder was aired on 7News.
Well tonight, those 2 accused: 18 year-old Dangriga resident Keon Dennison, and 19 year-old Belize City resident Tyrone Reid, are at Belize Central Prison. They were arraigned today before Magistrate Deborah Rogers, who did not take any plea from them, and neither could she offer them bail. They were remanded into custody until January 29, 2016.
As we showed you, Ruben Perez was inside his business place last Thursday afternoon. He was sitting behind his desk playing with his phone when 2 young men barged into the establishment. There was a struggle, and the jumpy gun-wielding robber shot him in the neck at close range. That injury was fatal.
On Friday we told you about the death of Emerson Burke on the Southern Highway and tonight there is another fatal accident to report. This one happened Friday afternoon, where 55-year-old housewife Nelly Lopez was flung from the back of a pickup driven by her 19 year old son. He told police the brakes in the Mazda pickup failed and he swerved to avoid a collision. His mother Nelly was flung from the pan of the truck unto the pavement. She received serious head and body injuries and was transported to the Southern Regional where she succumbed to her injuries.
And there was a serious collision over the weekend in the Corozal District where luckily no one was killed.
Six persons, including two children, had to be treated for minor injuries after the head on collision between miles 72 and 73, which is between San Narciso and Louisville Villages.
A white Toyota Taxi Van that was northbound crashed into a grey Ford Ranger. Maria Sho, who was driving the taxi says that the Ford Ranger pickup, driven at the time by 25 year old San Narciso Village resident Roxani Elsi Chan, suddenly pulled out of a compound and crashed into the taxi. The two drivers had to be wrested out of the vehicles and carted away.
The GSU got a gun on the northside this weekend. Based on intelligence, they went to search at home at #5655 Gentle Avenue, and saw 33 year old Naturalized Belizean Nayef Khodr AGHA, stepping out. He was then escorted back inside where a search was conducted. He volunteered to police that he had a firearm inside a drawer behind the door. Police looked inside and found a chrome .22 pistol containing a magazine with one live round. Agha had no license for it, and so he was arrested and charged for the offence of Kept Unlicensed Firearm and Ammunition.
The family and friends of Austrian Politician Josef Trajer continue to worry about him after he left his country to vacation in Belize. It's been a month since he was supposed to return, and since then, he has not contacted anyone back home.
Reports to 7News are that he traveled to Belize from Vienna On October 12 or 13 where he was supposed to have stayed in a lodge in a jungle camp in Southern Belize for 2 or 3 weeks. He is believed to have arrived on schedule, and sometime later, one of his friend's back home received a worrying call.
Our information says that an unknown German speaking man called this friend to say that Trajer had been hurt, and that his return would be delayed. He hasn't been answering any of his phones since that call.
Since then, a Belize City based law firm has been making contacts with the lodges and hospitals in Toledo and with the KHMH, but there is still no other information about Trajer since.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the police.
The Civic Center was dismantled two years ago, there's been no move to start work on the multi purpose sports facility that's supposed to replace it. But today, kind of out of the blue, Belize Infrastructure Limited sent a press release saying that a contract was signed two months ago for 32.9 million dollars. The release omits to mention when work will starts, but once it does, it should go on for two years. The contract was awarded to the local joint venture of Medina's Construction and International Environments Ltd.
The release says it will be called the new "Belize City Center Arena and Cultural Complex" and will feature 3 inside practice basketball courts, and one FIBA grade professional center court. It will seat 4000 for games and 5000 for indoor entertainment events. The Center will be fully air conditioned and have parking underneath the building. Outside, there will also be two outdoor basketball courts, one 5 on 5 soccer field, and skateboard parks.
On Sunday afternoon, a Belize City family on Neal's Pen Road got a very unpleasant surprise when their house fell down. The upper floor home was on stilts which suddenly gave way around 1:30, and it all came tumbling down. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the woman of the house was shocked. We spoke to Sherol Brooks:..
Anyone wishing to help the family can do so by calling 207-1050 or 620-6022.
At the top of this newscast, we spent about 20 minutes talking all about the Youth Hostel - and the many breakdowns on Saturday that culminated in three girls perishing in a dorm fire. And while all the attention now is brought to focus on how the hostel was managed and what they did and didn't do, the fact is, that place is in constant crisis - not so much because of management but because the children that are sent there are themselves in crisis.
Overall, the Department of Human Development manages about 300 children who are in state care - and each case requires special attention.
Today at a Racoon Street police station press conference, Director of Community Rehabilitation Starla Bradley had to take all the questions - including one about whether she would resign:..
Reporter "Would you feel the need to resign?"
Starla Bradley, Director Community Rehabilitation Department "I feel that the easy thing to do might be to resign and put all of this behind me. But there is still the work to do. The work still continues. The Youth Hostel in general, the population that we served, we've seen over the years they becoming increasingly difficult to manage. Just the issues that they come with. The level of aggression, the level of trauma, the level of mental and psychiatric issues and it always seems to like we are racing against time to try to fix a system, an old system to catch up to their needs, their present issues and needs. For us over the past few years we did an assessment of the entire system and we realize that we had to do more than just warehouse these children. The system was completely broken and if you had seen the facilities previously - there was a lot lacking and so for the past few years we've been working very hard to try to strengthen the facility itself, like wooden doors that we think would be indestructible - these children somehow find a way to break a part. So we graduated to metal doors."
"A few months ago we changed management. We change the manager of the Youth Hostel and we had to terminate the employment of 6 staff that we deemed them unsuitable for the post because they were unable to follow protocol and not following protocol is one of the issues that creates the risks and the tragedies that we faced."
"One of the grave challenges if you will is trying to change an old culture that we have of doing things in a lacks way and we've been struggling with this. That's one of the biggest struggles we've had at the institution, is trying to get people - all persons on board to understand that these policies are in place for a reason and breaking old practices."
Reporter "How safe are the children in state protective care?"
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez, Minister of Human Dev. "The children are safe as safe as can be, as safe as my children, as safe as your children. But when you have mishap and people breaking protocols. Just like a parent, if you neglect certain things at certain time, anything can happen."
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "We are not by any stretch of the imagination pretending that this system is perfect. But we have been working very diligently as Mrs. Bradley outlines to fix the system as best as we can."
And "fixing" the system also means preparing for the worst. At the hostel that means fires; Saturday's was the second major incident for the year. CEO in the Ministry Alpuche told the media they are looking to invest in a Fire suppression system:
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "It's about a $154,000 investment and we just got the go ahead from IDB, because the loan is an IDB loan. That was not at all a feature of the loan agreement. But they have agreed with us that that is an essential piece and so that is currently under construction at the Youth Hostel."
Reporter "When do you expect to see it out?"
Judith Alpuche, CEO - Min. Of Human Development "I would really need to check to see when that, but it certainly has to be completed within a month or two because that's when the loan closes."
As you heard earlier, the fire department has asked for a hydrant to be placed at the hostel.
Last week, we told you about how the Obama Administration blacklisted Kremsont Commercial Inc, an offshore company registered in Belize for alleged ties to Syria and Isis. The accusation from the US Department of Treasury was that 4 individuals, Kremsont, and another entity, were allegedly backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Although it is most likely a shell company where it's registered owners probably never set foot here, Belize is being loosely associated with an "Islamic State" terror group. When the Prime Minister was asked about it this weekend, he told the press that he is hopeful that there are no lasting negative effects:
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "I want to be careful because we all know how touchy this sort of thing is, how sensitive. But this is one isolated instance of this company engaging in activity that's a violation of US law and sanctions requirement. I don't see how the jurisdiction, Belize as a jurisdiction will get into any trouble as a result of that. I think its limited to the particular company."
Reporter "To those of us who don't understand as much. Why would a company like Kremsont register in Belize? What would they gain by that?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Because they are IBC. So they are no-taxed. Remember offshore jurisdictions are common throughout this region and in fact throughout the world and so I am sure those companies that have formed IBCs in Belize will be better place than I to tell you all they benefits that they get."
And, we also asked the Prime Minister if he supports his son, Moses Shyne Barrow, in his political aspirations. As we told you, Shyne wants to run as the next UDP standard bearer for the Mesopotamia Division, where he would replace his uncle, Michael Finnegan.
The Prime Minister told us that he supports Shyne on this venture, and he also revealed that his sister, "Sista B" will replace him in Queen Square when he steps down:
Reporter "Shyne has indicated that he will run in Mesopotamia. He has indicated also in an interview that he has your blessing. Could you confirm or deny that?"
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Yes he has my blessing. He is my son and if that's what he chooses to do I will of course support him."
Reporter "He has also said that "Sista B" will take over in Queen Square."
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "That is the plan in deed. That is the plan."