Granada’s firefighters and the rest of the community are mourning a fallen 20-year-old fireman who was killed when an armed robbery at the Granada Western Union ended with a burst of gunfire that left one dead and several injured.
At press time, police had detained two suspects, though at least two other suspects have been identified and a third unidentified man remain at large, according to National Police spokesman Alonso Sevilla.
Three assailants wielding handguns pistol- whipped both security guards at the Western Union the morning of Dec. 12, as they made their way into the money-wiring business. Once inside, they held-up four Western Union employees for an estimated $22,000, according to Sevilla.
“We didn’t even have enough time to pull out our pistols,” injured security guard Hamil Garcia, 26, told The Nica Times in an interview after the robbery, with blood still flowing down his face.
As the three armed bandits fled the Western Union, eight firefighters and two police responded from the fire station one block away.
They were all unarmed.
As they approached the Western Union office, the first-responders apparently startled the robbers, at least one of whom was unmasked. Gunshots ensued.
According to one of the firefighters, Roland Peñas, as many as 10 shots were fired into the scattered group of firemen and other passersby on the street in front of Western Union.
“They just started shooting. But not up in the air, at body level,” Peñas said.
One civilian bystander was hit in the arm, and firefighter Delvin Mercado was shot in the chest at point blank by an unmasked robber.
The bullet ripped through his torso, puncturing his lungs and heart, according to Dr. Francisco Melendez of Granada’s Hospital Japones. Mercado died an hour later at the hospital.
The three assailants jumped into the back of a getaway pickup truck that was waiting for them with a driver one block away on Calle Libertad, in front of Café Nuit, according to one foreign resident who witnessed the crime.
The witness, who wished to remain unidentified, said he didn’t immediately understand what he was witnessing, and confused the sound of the gunshots for fireworks, which are lit off incessantly in December as part of the holiday tradition here.
“How can you differentiate between gunshots and the bombs that are going off all day?” he said.
Other witnesses, including Peñas, reported that at least one other bandit fled on a motorcycle. Sevilla said police have no information on the motorcycle or its whereabouts, though they haven’t ruled out the possibility of additional suspects.
The getaway pickup reportedly sped off towards Managua, but the highway was blocked by a fallen tree, according to Sevilla.
The bandits abandoned the pickup and fled on foot into the hills near the Laguna de Apoyo, according to Sevilla.
Police have since seized the Chevy S-10, which was the key clue leading to the arrest of María Lourdes Ramírez, 35,who had rented the vehicle in Managua. Sevilla said Ramírez is suspected of being married to José Luis Lewis Richsi, one of the other identified suspects. Enrique Ramon Bravo and Marvin Emilio García are the other suspects identified by police.
All of them live in Managua, the police spokesman said.
“We’re supporting the family and also requesting the support of all authorities to find the culprits of this murder,” said Granada Fire Chief Hebert Marenco.
Marenco, his crew of firefighters and friends and family of Mercado held ceremonies for the fallen firefighter last week.
The violent bank assault came as a shock to both Granada and Nicaragua, the country with the fewest bank robberies in all of Central America, according to NationalPolice.
“There are never assaults like this in Granada; this is the first time I can remember,” said Granada resident Rubin Silva, who visited the fire station to pay his respects to Mercado.
The suspects may have stayed the night before the robbery in an unidentified Granada hotel, where they would have put finishing touches on their plot, Sevilla said. Western Union’s manager in Granada said the company isn’t commenting on the incident while it’s being investigated.