San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Popular Tourist Town Under Siege

SANTA ELENA, Monteverde – “Isaw cops shooting at the bad guys. I was onthe street when two bad guys wentdown…”“We saw people running, then therewere about 75-80 gunshots and we doveunder the desk. Some of the bank employeesran into the hotel…”“Stray bullets shot out the glass in thehotel. It felt like they were coming into thehotel. It was a nightmare…”These comments – the first by EricRogers, 30, who lives in the region and thesecond by Zoe Koulouris, 27, a touristfrom Australia – are representative of theexperiences of tourists and residents thisweek in this normally quiet town in thenorthern highlands.From the moment the would-be robbersviolently attempted to enter the town’sonly bank, a branch of the Banco Nacional,the town was transformed – at the least for28 hours and at the most, forever.RESIDENTS and visitors heard rainsof gunfire periodically throughoutTuesday night and the following day. Thewhole town center was locked down.Yellow tape blocked off a triangle ofstreets around the bank. Many touristswho had rooms inside the off-limits zonecould not return to their rooms during theordeal.On Wednesday, outside the Monteverdehealth clinic, friends and familymembers of those inside, as well as membersof the press, waited for releasedhostages to enter and leave.People were on edge, tired. Most hadn’tslept much, many not at all.With the streets deserted except forpolice crouching in trees and helmetedRed Cross workers walking about, smallcrowds of onlookers gathered in stairwellsand under eaves around the taped offzone.Others, like people around the nation,were fixated on their televisions, wherethey could watch all the bloody imagesunfold in painstaking slowness as TV stationsabandoned their regular programmingto broadcast live coverage of thebank takeover.EVEN after the crisis endedWednesday night, the signs remained, aspolice officers tagged evidence, mostlybullet shells, outside the bank.Red Cross workers assured the communitypsychologists would come to workwith those affected, attempting to helpthem cope with the tragedy, accept it, andone day, overcome it.

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