Mass shooting in Hopkins: 2 dead, 8 injured

The content originally appeared on: Amandala Newspaper

An initial investigation revealed that a Canadian national identified as military veteran John Roy Smith, 43, acted as the driver for the three shooters. He has been charged along with Brian Andrews, Kenyon Moore, and Sherwin Moore (all from Sittee River) with two counts of murder.

By Marco Lopez

HOPKINS, Thurs. Aug. 4, 2022

Two persons are dead; and eight others were wounded after what can only be described as an act of terrorism that shocked the peaceful coastal community of Hopkins early Sunday morning. Three men from Sittee River reportedly stormed into Wabinaha Night Club in Hopkins with firearms—first murdering who police believe to be the targeted victim, Noah Moro, 23; and thereafter opening fire on the patrons in the club indiscriminately. Another man, 56-year-old Honduran national, Emilio Garcia, who had reportedly tried to close the doors of the club to block the gunfire, was also shot. (According to some reports, he stumbled over a body during that attempt to save lives and was shot by the gunman when he fell onto the floor.) The other shooting victims, including three police officers who were transported to, and treated at, the Southern Regional Hospital, all are listed as being in stable condition or have been released.

This incident is only the second instance of a mass shooting in recent Belizean history, according to Commissioner of Police Chester Williams: in 2008, 14 persons were shot at the Putt Putt Night Club in Belize City. But this shooting, unlike that 2008 incident, occurred in the fastest- growing tourism hub and vacation spot in southern Belize—Hopkins village, known as a destination that offers visitors peace of mind within a tranquil community.

Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams has told reporters that the bloody incident, which took place sometime after 1:00 in the morning, stemmed from an altercation between the three accused shooters—Brian Andrews, 28; Kenyon Moore, 25; and Sherwin Moore, 35— and the first victim, Noah Moro, over a woman toward whom the three men had made advances. According to Compol Williams, Moro, who was with the woman, approached the men, and it was this act of intervention on his part that marked the start of the altercation. The men are said to have left and returned shortly after, being driven by a Canadian national since identified as  John Roy Smith.

It was at that point, according to police, that they barged into the club, shot Moro fatally, and proceeded to engage in indiscriminate gunplay that resulted in a second death and injuries to 8 others before they left the establishment in a vehicle being driven by Smith. Police detained Smith shortly after the incident.  

A glance at his Facebook profile will show a banner linked to the Canadian Army, and in his profile photo, if one looks closely, the three accused men can be seen alongside him. We have confirmed that he is a veteran of the Canadian army who has been retired for over a decade and moved to Belize just 6 months ago. He was reportedly residing in Sittee River, where the three accused gunmen also reportedly have lived.

On Monday, it was announced that the three persons believed to be the triggermen were captured near Silk Grass, and according to Police Commissioner Williams, at the time of their capture they were being driven by an attorney who indicated that he was on his way to hand over the accused to police. He was also taken in for questioning.

Commissioner Williams has accused the men’s defense attorney of directing them to not cooperate with police, and said that police were not able to get much information from the men due to that lack of cooperation.

“The attorney told the accused men not to cooperate with police investigators, and so they all choose to remain silent during the entire interview process. Notwithstanding that, we do have sufficient evidence, based on eyewitnesses, as well as video footage, to indicate that these three young men are the culprits in respect to the shooting in the Wabinaha Night Club in Hopkins village,” Commissioner Williams said.

The four men have since been charged and arraigned on two counts of murder jointly at the Dangriga Magistrate’s  Court and have been remanded to the Belize Central Prison until November 9.

The nightclub at which the shooting occurred is said to be owned by a Belizean with strong roots in Hopkins, Bernard Nunez, 69. We have received reliable information that the backdoor of the establishment was padlocked at the time of the shooting, and Commissioner Williams had indicated on Monday that an “investigation is also underway against the proprietor of the establishment for breaches of the conditions of his license by not having an adequate exit.”

Notably, one of the persons who was shot at the club is a 15-year-old female, and the National Commission for Families and Children (NCFC) thus called this week for a full investigation of the management of the nightclub.

“It is clear that a 15-year-old should not be in a bar or nightclub, which must be reserved for adults. We call on law enforcement to fully investigate the management of the nightclub and to let the law takes its course for this grave infraction,” a press release issued by the NCFC this morning states.  

Compol Williams has noted as well that the police officers who were shot at the club— Superintendent Gerald Jones, PC Rudel Pau, and PC Pamela Zuniga—were only doing a routine stop and check and were not assigned to be security at the club. He said that the management instead had a civilian serving as a security guard.  It has also been reported that no weapon searches were conducted on persons who entered the club.

Nunez was thus charged yesterday in the Dangriga Magistrate’s Court for admitting the 15-year-old minor into the club and failing to provide a male and female security guard.

AMANDALA spoke to a resident of Hopkins who is the father of one of the shooting victims and who chose to remain unidentified. He was on the scene of the crime and confirmed that no police were on duty at the club at the time of the incident. 

“As I reach the club, like about 10, 15 minutes after that the thing happen. Good thing I was there, because if I never deh there, maybe it coulda mi be worse. It coulda mi be maybe one of my sons or me. I mi had a feeling and said, just make a goh. The guys they just pass, the mad dog everybody, they gone da the front door, and look like they mi got the thing plan long time. Dey gun mi already cock, gone da the front door and just start open up fire pan everybody and they send one da the back door, and the back door was close right, so there was no access for anybody get out, cause that padlock up. Da like everybody trap inna the place,” the eyewitness told us. 

He said that the front door was ajar, and that he was near the door when they kicked it open and began to shoot. 

“I was right at the door, and I shet in the door. I end up stomp in the door make they nuh see nobody. He just start blast ata the building, stomp open the door and start blast again. Da soh everybody start get it, and then I tell yo the next gunman, the next man run da the back door and he start shot through the back door too so nobody can’t go front nor back, just have to take cover, lay down, and pray for the best,” the eyewitness said. 

The eyewitness, whose 18-year-old son was shot during the incident, said that two police officers arrived on the scene while the gunmen were still making their escape, but that those officers failed to take any steps to apprehend them. He said that he then rushed both his son and the wounded 15-year-old female to the hospital. 

Interestingly, while the eyewitness acknowledged that he did see glimpses of an altercation at the bar of the club about 20 minutes before the shooting took place, he does not believe that the altercation over a woman at the club was the reason for the spiteful shooting.

While the motive for the shooting is yet uncertain, the Chairman of the Hopkins village council, Mr. Macario Augustine, wanted to make it clear that the incident, which took place on Hopkins Day, does not reflect what the community is about. “In regards to the unfortunate incident that occurred in our village last night, I want to assure the public that it is an isolated incident… ”, he said in a video message on the day after the shooting.