Killing of Boy at Caribe Hilton Raises Concerns
SAN JUAN — A 10-year-old boy died after being shot in the head near the pool of a hotel, sparking concerns about a rise in killings in Puerto Rico.
The shootout late Monday at the Hotel Caribe Hilton scattered tourists and local residents gathered there to celebrate July 4th. The hotel is located next to an 18th-century fort as well as an expanding commercial area featuring high-end restaurants and boutiques.
Ferdinand Pérez, a former Puerto Rico legislator, told reporters he was at the hotel with his family when he the boy was shot. He said people began to run toward the elevators and hide under stairs.
Injured in the shooting was the boy’s father and another man whom police say had a criminal record and may have been targeted. No one has been arrested, and police are reviewing hotel video surveillance tapes to determine who may have been involved, police agent Israel Arroyo said by telephone.
“We are terribly saddened by this tragic news,” the hotel said in a statement, adding that the safety of guests is a top priority and that officials are reviewing security protocols.
Hotel spokeswoman Betty González did not return messages for additional comment.
Perez said he would support legislation calling for metal detectors being placed at hotels during big events.
Monday’s killing of Michael Romero Rivera is one of 333 slayings reported in Puerto Rico so far this year, an increase of 54 killings compared with the same period last year.
Prior to the boy’s death, police had already reported 11 killings and 12 shooting-related injuries over the July 4th weekend, prompting Police Chief José Caldero to announce he was assigning more resources to cities including San Juan.
The increase in killings in recent months follows a drop in slayings on an island of 3.5 million people that reported a record 1,164 murders in 2011. Officials have previously said they believe more than 70 percent of killings are drug-related.
The boy’s father, José Javier Romero, 35, and José Cruz García, 29, were shot during the incident and taken to the Río Piedras Medical Center.
The gubernatorial candidate for the New Progressive Party (NPP), Ricardo Rosselló, said Tuesday that the recent crime wave is “unacceptable,” while noting that “it is the failure of a government that only knows how to improvise and is devoid of a public policy that integrates effective strategies to combat drug trafficking.”
“The death of children in the middle of drug-related shootings is outrageous and shameful for our society,” Rosselló said.
In his view, most “of the killings and violence occurring on the streets is linked to drug trafficking. The government’s response to this criminal activity evinces improvisation and lack of will to address the problem.”
The NPP leader added that “the government cannot hand the streets and shopping and tourism activity areas over to drug trafficking. The justice system, respect for life and law enforcement should be the norm and not the exception in our society.”
Rosselló concluded his Tuesday statement by saying, “Crime is a consequence of the economic crisis, which drug trafficking takes advantage of to expand operations before a government lacking adequate coping strategies. Unfortunately, in addressing both the economic problem and public safety, at present, the government is virtually nonexistent.”
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