Death of Roanoke doctor raises questions about traveling to Belize

Dr. Gary Swank and tour guide were murdered in the Central American country

ROANOKE, Va. – There may be reservations about traveling to Belize after a Roanoke doctor and his tour guide were found murdered there this week.

Carilion Clinic cardiologist Dr. Gary Swank and his tour guide, Mario Graniel, were killed in the small Central American country Sunday. The news surprised Gary Hunt, a Roanoke man who has traveled to Belize every year since 1990 to donate school supplies for charity.

"It's a sad thing to hear about and I'm sorry it took place in my favorite little country," Hunt said. "It's a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The U.S. Department of State, which offers government guidance on travel for American tourists, has listed Belize under a level two travel advisory since the beginning of the year. The advisory says visitors should "exercise increased caution in Belize due to crime."

The State Department's annual report on Belize tallied 143 murders in the country last year, despite the coastal country's population being fewer than 400,000 people.

Hunt says he felt safe in Belize every time he visited and still recommends traveling to the country.

"Where we go in Belize is quiet and peaceful. It's like Mayberry," Hunt said. "They have crime like anybody else, but it's not excessive and it's certainly not like Nicaragua, El Salvador or the Middle East."

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