Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ecuador: Japanese Bride, 27, of Murdered Husband Recovering from Armed Attack by Gunmen

According to The Japan Times, Japanese tourist Mariko Hitomi, 27, who was severely wounded in a shooting that killed her husband, Tetsuo, 28, on December 28, while the couple was on their honeymoon in Guayaquil, remains grieving and hospitalized.

Speaking for the first time since the couple was abducted in connection with an “express kidnapping,” Mariko agreed to be interviewed by Kyodo News only on the condition that no photography or recording of any form be authorized. 

Local police in Guayaquil said that the couple were married in Japan on December 22 and flew to Ecuador to celebrate their honeymoon. Yet, on the evening of December 28, after finishing dinner they hailed a taxi to take them back to their hotel.

COMMENT: As I have learned in working in Latin America for clients for the better part of 20 years, the one bad choice anyone can make is "hailing" a taxi.

Invariably, I urge all foreign travelers to ask their hotel concierge, their embassy or consulate or other reputable source for a list of radio-controlled reputable taxis with their phone numbers so that such taxis can be called when needed.

I always urge travelers to Latin America to NEVER hail a taxi given the fact that a number of taxis in the region have been stolen over the years by criminals, thus rendering them vulnerable to “express-kidnapping,” which is defined as a short-term abduction for the purpose of armed robbery, rape and even homicide.

Of course, the reason I urge travelers to use only reputable radio-controlled taxis is because many taxis in Ecuador also work with gangs that plan to rob foreigners.

After hailing a taxi on the street, the Japanese couple soon realized that a gang of eight gunmen had reportedly been following their taxi, very likely in concert with the taxi driver, and suddenly attacked them while en-route to their hotel at which point Tetsuo was shot in the chest and died at the scene.

Mariko was shot in the abdomen and leg and was rushed to the hospital and is now in serious, but stable condition. 

The couple’s driver has since disappeared, but police say many of the taxis in the area are affiliated with local gangs and help them lure unsuspecting tourists to areas where they can rob them.

The Ecuadorean government has offered a $100,000 reward for any information that will lead to the arrest of the suspects. 

During Mariko’s interview with KYODO NEWS she said, with her mother at her bedside, “I still can’t walk, and I don’t know when I can go home.”

Although Hitomi may be released from the hospital soon, it may be wise for her to be placed in protective police custody until after she testifies, as her assailants obviously are aware of the fact that she survived the attack.

Hitomi declined to share too many details about the attack on herself and her husband, saying, “I have been told by prosecutors not to say anyone.”

She and her husband had planned to visit the Galapagos Islands until her life dramatically and tragically changed.

Speaking for the first time since the couple was abducted in connection with an “express kidnapping,” Mariko agreed to be interviewed by KYODA NEWS only on the condition that no photography or recording of any form be authorized. 

Local police in Guayaquil said that the couple were married in Japan on December 22 and flew to Ecuador to celebrate their honeymoon. Yet, on the evening of December 28, after finishing dinner they hailed a taxi to take them back to their hotel.

Of course, the reason I urge travelers to use only reputable radio-controlled taxis is because many taxis in Ecuador are co-conspirators in working with gangs that plan to rob foreigners.

After hailing a taxi on the street, the Japanese couple soon realized that a gang of eight gunmen had reportedly been following their taxi and then suddenly attacked them while en-route to their hotel at which point Tetsuo was shot in the chest and died at the scene.

The couple’s driver has since disappeared, but police say many of the taxis in the area are affiliated with local gangs and help them lure unsuspecting tourists to areas where they can rob them.

The Ecuadorean government has offered a $100,000 reward for any information that will lead to the arrest of the suspects. 

During Mariko’s interview with KYODA NEWS she said, with her mother at her bedside, “I still can’t walk, and I don’t know when I can go home.”

Although Hitomi may be released from the hospital soon, it may be wise for her to be placed in protective police custody until after she testifies, as her assailants obviously are aware of the fact that she survived the attack.

Hitomi declined to share too many details about the attack on herself and her husband, saying, “I have been told by prosecutors not to say anyone.”

She and her husband had planned to visit the Galapagos Islands until her life dramatically and tragically changed.

Last Sunday, Ecuador’s interior minister, José Serrano, said key suspects have emerged in the shooting and indicated they may be arrested in the short term. In retrospect, the interior minister should have said nothing about imminent arrests so as to not alert the assailants if they heard his statement.

As a final note to all travelers, both Quito and Guayaquil have been designated by the US Department of State as being "Critical" threat for crime, which is the Department's highest level of treat for both destinations.

The State Department's four-tier threat level system is classified (in descending order) as "Critical, High, Medium and Low."

Prudent travelers, at least, should be considering destinations that are classified as "Medium and Low" criminal threat, rather than choosing "Critical" and "High" threat destinations.