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Jan 31, 2018

Missing Rangers Found after Intensive Search

Luis Ramirez & Elroy Villanueva

The Ramirez and Villanueva families are breathing easier tonight now that their two loved ones, rangers Luis and Elroy, have been located in the Chiquibul Forest. At about now, Ramirez, we are told, is being transported to the Loma Luz Hospital in Santa Elena, Cayo. The rangers went missing on Monday evening, after setting out from their camp at Caracol in search of a wild vegetable that they would prepare along with their meal.  Since their disappearance, a joint search team had been looking for them and despite hearsay that Ramirez had been found in Peten, Guatemala this morning, that information was inaccurate. The break came this afternoon when Ramirez and Elroy were found dehydrated, but safe. Both men were found several miles northwest of their camp, but well within Belize’s territory. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has been following their story and spoke to family members as well as the Ministry of National Security and the National Institute of Culture and History.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Residents of San Jose Succotz can breathe a collective sigh of relief tonight, following the successful rescue of Luis Ramirez, a park ranger assigned to the Caracol Archaeological Site.

 

Shaninie Ramirez

Shaninie Ramirez, Daughter of Missing Ranger

“I knew two [persons] were lost, like in the morning but it wasn’t, they didn’t tell me who was it.  Then in the evening about four [o’clock] they came to ask me for my mom’s number and then I realized something was wrong.”

 

Ramirez, along with fellow warden Elroy Villanueva, went missing on Monday afternoon when they wandered out into the wilderness of the Chiquibul Forest in search of chib, an uncultivated vegetable that flavors their daily meal.

 

Neil Hall

Neil Hall, Communications Officer, NICH

“These two gentlemen went off on just a walk for something that they usually put in their food.  It’s something that grows in the region and they just went to pick up and come back.  When they left it was nothing untoward, nothing different, nothing strange.  They did not return in a timely manner, which again wasn’t anything to raise alarms; however, when they did not return after a few hours their fellow rangers became slightly worried and concerned and proceeded to look for them.  There are two camps that are nearby, one is a B.D.F. camp and the other is a research camp.  They visited these camps to see if they were there and found that they were not.  Again, while I wouldn’t want to say this is nothing strange, it did stand out.  In the morning, when they had been, when they woke and discovered that these two gentlemen had not returned at all during the night that’s when their alarm levels were raised.”

 

A search team made up of their colleagues, immediately set out into the area once again, in an effort to locate the missing men.  They would later be joined by patrol teams from the Belize Defense Force.

 

Felix Enriquez

Felix Enriquez, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security

“We have deployed the personnel from both the conservation posts that are out there, being Valentin and Caballo camps.  Those two have been deployed since yesterday; in fact, they were the first ones to go out.  In addition to that, the Belizario Operational Post in Cayo has sent out to additional patrols.  I know also that some park rangers have joined them from Forestry [Department] and other persons from the police department as well, the B.D.F. and police K9 units as well, have gone out.  We have contacted our counterparts from the operational post in Peten, the armed forces in Guatemala, and they themselves have launched a search effort.”

 

The massive search party sent into the vast expanse of the Chiquibul Forest, covered a swath of land that is heavily wooded.  Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Felix Enriquez, himself a member of the Belize Defense Force, describes the jungle terrain.

 

Felix Enriquez

“It’s the Caracol area and so the park rangers that operate in that area are very familiar with it.  Their task out there is essentially to work at Caracol and mind the tourist area, do explanations for tourists that come out and other things that are associated with being park rangers.  So they are very familiar with the area.  Some parts of it is indeed very dense forestry.  We ask them because we have people at Caracol as well to provide escorts to tourists, because the area is sensitive, and we ask them not to stray too far without having escorts from the Belize Defense Force, but they are comfortable with their surroundings.  They work there, they live there.”

 

Despite their familiarity with the area, the duo somehow became disoriented when nightfall caught them away from their camp.  In attempting to recover their bearing, the men drifted deeper into the forest.  Earlier today, a rumor began spreading that Ramirez, a father of four, had been located in the Department of Peten, in neighboring Guatemala.  That turned out to be inaccurate.

 

Shaninie Ramirez

“Just like in the morning, about ten I guess, someone called me and then they told me that they were okay and then they were gonna be meeting with the other officers there at the border.  But I made some calls and then they told me it was not true.”

 

All that time the search effort continued.  At one-thirty this afternoon, Ramirez and Villanueva were discovered two and a half kilometers northwest of Caracol and four kilometers east of the Guatemalan border.  While their disappearance was cause for serious concern given hostilities within the area, the National Institute of Culture and History remained optimistic that the men would be found alive and well.

 

Neil Hall

“I am hoping and, as NICH is, and the Institute of Archaeology is, we’re praying that they’re quite okay and just hidden from us in a little corner somewhere waiting for us to find them today.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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