Prominent Virginia Doctor Is Fatally Shot While Fly Fishing on Family Vacation in Belize

Dr. Gary Swank, 53, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen

Dr. Gary Swank
Photo: Carilion Clinic

A prominent Virginia doctor was shot multiple times while on vacation in Belize.

Dr. Gary Swank, 53, was traveling in the Central American nation with his wife and school-age children, neighbors tell WSLS. Swank, an avid fly fisherman, chartered a day trip with a local tour guide, 53-year-old Mario Graniel.

Swank and Graniel set out on a fly fishing expedition at 11:30 a.m on Sunday. Police later found them dead in a lagoon in the San Pedro area of the country.

According to a police statement obtained by NBC News, Graniel was found “in a fetal position behind the steering wheel of the skiff.” He had been shot four times. The statement says that Swank’s “lifeless body” was found “floating face down in the lagoon about 30 feet away from the skiff.” He had also suffered four gunshot wounds.

The U.S. State Department has confirmed Swank’s death.

Police believe that the gunmen were targeting the tour guide and not the doctor. Authorities told the San Pedro Sun that someone had shot at Graniel’s home the night before his murder, but that he still came to work the following day.

Belize Police Commissioner Chester Williams told local Channel 5 news that Graniel “had a misunderstanding with one of the local notorious gang” figures of San Pedro, NBC reports.

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Swank worked as an interventional cardiologist at the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, NBC News reports. He was also the medical director of the clinic’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab and taught at Virginia Tech’s medical school.

In a statement to Newsweek, Swank’s employer said that its employees “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,” the Carilion Clinic said in the statement. “His absence leaves a void in our team and in our community.”

Swank and Graniel’s bodies were taken to the San Pedro Polyclinic, where they were pronounced dead. Swank’s body will be returned to the United States for burial, NBC reports.

The U.S. State Department had previously issued a level two travel advisory for Belize, warning travelers to exercise increased caution in the country due to crime. The agency says that armed robberies and murder can be “common even during daylight hours.”

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