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Roanoke doctor, tour guide found murdered in Belize

Authorities believe tour guide was the target

SAN PEDRO, Belize – A Roanoke doctor and his tour guide were found murdered in San Pedro, Belize, Sunday, according to officials with Carilion Clinic. Swank's neighbors in Roanoke County say the avid angler was on vacation with his wife and school aged children when it happened.

Gary Swank, 53, was a cardiologist at Carilion Clinic and was on a fly fishing expedition. He had just recently been promoted to associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

10 News has been unsuccessful in its attempts to reach the United States Consulate in Belize, or the local authorities. But, authorities in Belize tell the San Pedro Sun that he was found floating face down in a lagoon with several gunshot wounds. Mario Graniel, 53, a well-known local Belizian tour guide, was also found dead in the boat with several gunshot wounds. 

Authorities tell the San Pedro Sun that they believe Graniel was the target of the shooting because officers were called to his home Saturday after an unknown gunman fired shots outside his apartment complex. 

Mayor Daniel Guerrero, the San Pedro Town Council and Staff would like to extend its deepest condolences to the Graniel...

Posted by San Pedro Town Council on Sunday, June 23, 2019

Below is the full statement from Chris Turnbull, director of corporate communications with Carilion Clinic: 

"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. 

After further investigation, authorities believe Swank and Graniel were fly fishing at the San Pedro Town Lagoon when a skiff passed by and opened fire on their boat." 

Swank's work as a cardiologist touched many people in the area and as the news broke, their hearts did too. Teresa Hodges was a patient of Swank's for 13 years and says she's devestated to hear the news.

"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."

Dozens of other people commented on social media expressing shock and grief.

"Dr. Swank was a wonderful cardiologist. He took excellent care of my husband and I," Cindy Jones wrote on Facebook ."I can't believe this, this is such a shock and loss for our area."

"I worked with Dr. Swank in the cath lab at RMH. He was a great doctor who we all are going to miss dearly," Sonya Jennings wrote. "I send my love and prayers to the family, gone but never forgotten as you watch over us, always in our hearts, miss you."

The Belize Consulate in Washington, D.C. called the incident tragic but said it needed to learn more before it could comment. The U.S. State Department offered no other comment other than confirming the incident happened.

Congressman Ben Cline and both Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner all offered their condolences and vowed to help where they could.

Swank and Graniel's bodies were taken to the San Pedro Polyclinic, where the two were pronounced dead. Authorities are still investigating the incident.   

The U.S. Department of State has released a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Belize due to "violent crime," such as "sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies, and murder." It also states that crimes in Belize are rarely solved or prosecuted.


About the Authors:

Shayne Dwyer

Shayne Dwyer is an award-winning journalist and a member of the 10 News team since May 2018.

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