Gorgona residents concerned about the recent spate of robberies and violence met at La Ruina Restaurante on Saturday to get an update from local police and receive tips on how to stay safe.
Major Barsallo of the district police force said there have been four arrests in the recent Gorgona home invasion, which occurred approximately two weeks ago. Earlier reports had indicated that there had been six arrests. But he clarified that police are still searching for two other suspects and are following leads to break the criminal ring.
According to Major Barsallo, a case is being built against a local couple who may have been organizing the recent robberies in the community.
Barsallo told about 75 concerned citizens, including expats, local Panamanians and business owners, that this couple was scouting potential victims and then bringing in people from outside Gorgona to perpetrate the crimes. He also said that it was a local who called police to report some suspicious activities that led police to the criminals.
He said the thieves were scoping out people’s patterns – their comings and goings – on weekends and on Mondays. He also suggested that they were looking for vulnerable people, such as those out drinking and arriving home late at night.
There are five cases that have been directly linked to this group – two of them are expat related and three related to local Panamanians. Varying degrees of violence have been part of these crimes, including incidents with guns.
“We’ve recovered two stolen guns as part of this investigation,” said Barsallo. “Additionally, we have some fingerprints at the scene of the home invasion.”
Barsallo’s update was part of a larger community meeting to address recent crimes and incidents in the area. The officers also outlined how the community can protect each other with a local Vecinos Vigilantes (neighborhood watch) program, which is part of the national police strategy across Panama.
Jim Rizik, a retired police officer and Gorgona homeowner, and Frank Marcheski, from La Ruina, were instrumental in organizing the meeting because they are concerned that criminal activities in the area are negatively affecting everyone, not just the expats.
“We had a great turnout from the community on short notice, and the police were very helpful in providing us with information on these troubling cases,” he said. “The key now is to follow up with police and ensure that these criminals receive proper justice. No mas criminals en Gorgona!”
Rizik is organizing a new Vecinos Vigilantes board in order to get the program up and running. The board received a jump start from Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN). Rob Brown (from NHN) attended the meeting and donated $272 to the Gorgona group. The money had been raised earlier in the day at a NHN community meeting at XS Memories in Santa Clara. The money was used to pay Carlos Espino, a national crime expert who attended the meeting to provide his expertise, and which may include helping follow up with the home invasion incident.
In addition, $100 was donated by NHN to help start the Gorgona Neighborhood Watch program.
As part of the presentation, the police officers provided some suggestions to create a safer home environment, including:
• Know your neighbors (plus their maids, gardeners, etc.) and have their phone numbers;
• Ensure you have the proper police numbers;
• Install a security system, which may be as simple as having a loud buzzer or bell that can be heard by neighbors;
• Contact police if you see anything suspicious; and
• Change your patterns.
Important phone numbers
English speaking officer for emergency calls (Coronado): 240-4222
Gorgona police station: 240-6033
Chame police station: 240-6666
If all numbers are busy: 253-3333
Sgt. Francis cell (speaks some English) 6913-4199
Jim Rizik has an extensive email list which he is using to update people. If you are not on his list and wish to be, you can contact him at: