San Juan, PR — Police officer Guarionex Candelario held a number of his co-workers hostage this week and killed three of them before he was apprehended and taken into custody. The incident allegedly began with a simple argument at work, but the police department has not revealed any other details about the motive.
Lt. Luz M. Soto, Officer Rosario Hernández de Hoyos and Cmdr. Frank Román Rodríguez were killed in the attack. The victims were reportedly killed just as authorities were planning to negotiate with Candelario.
According to Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, Candelario was shot and injured after he killed the three officers. He was taken to the hospital and is currently still there, but Padilla declined to comment on his condition or the nature of his injuries.
Col. Hector Agosto of the Ponce police department, in the US territory’s second largest city, said that the attack was entirely unexpected.
“This took us completely by surprise. We are a family. I am trying to stay strong,” he said during a press conference.
Police spokesman Axel Valencia added that, “This is a very tragic situation that appalls us all especially because it occurred during the holidays.”
There were initial reports that Candelario had a bomb in his car, and the entire police headquarters was shut down to search for it. However, the police would not comment as to whether or not they actually found a bomb.
The suspect had shown signs of trouble in the past. He was stripped of his weapon several years ago, but was recently able to get his government issued firearm back after he took a psychological evaluation. Evidently, the psychological evaluation did not reveal any signs that he was on the verge of snapping.
“People here are incredulous to learn it was him,” Walter Torres, mayor of the nearby southern town of Penuelas, who said he knew Candelario well, told El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “He is very religious, one of those people who would visit those who are sick; a quiet person, a homebody.”
According to the AP, this is the largest shooting of its kind in the island’s history. The last shooting at a Puerto Rico police station occurred in September 2007, when a police sergeant in the southeast town of Yabucoa killed his supervisor after an argument about work scheduling.
Candelario had been with the department for 19 years and was a part of the city’s anti-drug task force, CBC reported.
Police in Puerto Rico are infamous for widespread corruption as a result of the country’s drug war. Earlier this year, the FBI arrested 10 Puerto Rico police officers for stealing drugs and cash, planting evidence and taking bribes.
According to the AP, the FBI arrested 89 law enforcement officers across Puerto Rico in 2010. The agency reported that it was the largest police corruption investigation in the FBI history.
Police corruption is an inevitable side effect of the drug war, as the drug trade offers far more financial opportunities than the paycheck of an average police officer. This dynamic is at work in America and other western countries, but Puerto Rico’s location makes it a hub for drug traffickers and the corruption is even more pronounced there than it is in other places.
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