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Sep 6, 2002

Bandits versus Mennonites: An unfair fight

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In terms of money stolen and firepower expended, yesterday’s armed robbery in the Mennonite community of Springfield, was not remarkable–at least when compared to the daily shootouts which have become part of life in Belize City. But myths die hard and the vision of tranquillity in the bucolic Belizean countryside is no more accurate than that of uncontrolled mayhem in the urban ghetto. Early this morning News 5′s Janelle Chanona travelled to Springfield to get a handle on the facts. Viewers should note that while residents spoke freely, their religious beliefs prevented them from being interviewed on camera.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

On Thursday, the quiet of life in Springfield was shattered when armed robbers ambushed residents living on the outskirts of the farming community.

According to the eyewitnesses, around 3:00 p.m. on Thursday four heavily armed and masked men emerged from the nearby jungle. They came here first, the house of Anton Penner, but no one was home. So they made the short trek to his father’s house, that of David Penner.

David Penner says his daughters were the first to see the bandits. Two men brandishing shotguns entered the house while two more stayed outside. They only said one word: dinero. Penner had seven hundred dollars in his pocket and had tried to hide the money by throwing it over the veranda. But one of the lookouts saw him do it. While this was happening, the Penner women made their escape by jumping threw a window at the back of the house and hiding in the orchard.

Alone with the thieves David Penner tried to remain calm. The barking of the family dog trying to protect his owner quickly irritated the gunmen and they shot the pet in its hindquarters to shut it up.

In the silence, the sound of the gunshot alerted neighbours of trouble…the bandits made their exit in a hurry. Within a half an hour, police would search the area and tonight one man is detained for questioning.

Authorities suspect the gang used an old picado that connects Springfield to the Roaring River road and the Hummingbird Highway. Today, the police were back at the scene to interview the victims.

Since David Penner and the other twenty-two families came to this area from Upper Barton Creek seven years ago, Springfield has been victimised on several occasions. Three years ago, the same David Penner was robbed at gunpoint. No one was ever arrested.

Adhering to traditional ways, residents do not use banks or keep home safes, so cash, albeit in relatively small amounts, is always on hand. Living without burglar bars or padlocks, these Mennonites make easy targets. Their non-violent credo–under which they will pray for the thieves instead of shooting them–also makes Springfield ripe for attack.

And while some observers are comparing this crime to the recent ambush at El Pilar and the 1998 Hummingbird assault, police sources are looking closely at last month’s busting of a Mennonite extortion ring, in which two suspects hailed from Barton Creek and a third from the nearby village of Armenia.

For the residents of Springfield, this insulated environment is peaceful and in tune with their spiritual beliefs. While this latest attack has left them shaken and reminded them of how vulnerable they are to elements from the outside world, for now they say life here will go on as normal. Reporting for News 5 from the Springfield Community, I am Janelle Chanona.

Viewers may recall that on last night’s newscast we carried a report that armed men had waylaid a southbound bus on the Hummingbird Highway, not far from Springfield. Today, we were informed that a bus was indeed stopped and boarded by armed men…but it turns out they were members of the Police Dragon Unit looking for suspects in the Springfield assault.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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