Saturday afternoon, July 18 – In casual conversation with Susan Peterson at the Handicapped Foundation, we were discussing the sudden and unexpected losses of Irene Haines and Lee Zeltzer. She observed, “Trouble always comes in threes – I wonder what’s next?” At 8:30 that very night, we had the horrifying answer.
At the request of Betsy, I am writing up this narrative so that we can all understand.
On Saturday night, Betsy Waddington, her 92 year old mother and 52 year old husband Joe Potrebenko were watching TV in the small downstairs apartment of their modest home in River Ranch, some 2km of dirt off the main Gualaca road.
Three intruders entered through a screen on an open window in the pantry, not 30 feet from where the family was sitting. They burst into the kitchen/living room area, the leader brandishing a silver revolver. Joe, sitting next to the TV, stood up and raised his arms and was instantly shot once in the chest from a distance of about 5 feet. Total elapsed time, less than 5 seconds. Of the seven guard dogs, not one of them detected the intruders.
Joe fell to the floor. The intruders grabbed Betsy and her mother, and threw them face down on floor next to Joe. They were tied with computer cords and Betsy was gagged. Within 5 minutes, Betsy felt her husband take his last breath.
Meanwhile, the criminals were screaming questions at them in a gutter Spanish – demanding to know where the guns were and where was the money. During the entire event, the leader, the murderer, was on the cell phone getting instructions from someone unseen.
For the next two hours they ransacked the house, upstairs and down, opening every drawer and container, throwing the contents around. Even though the killers were not masked, Betsy and here mother, terrified for their own lives, are unable to identify any of them.
They seemed to be very frustrated, because these gentle Canadians had no guns and lived a very modest lifestyle. In the end, they escaped with 5 laptops, three of them old derelicts, a collection of “antique” cell phones and about $50. They stole the family car and returned to the house to demand the gate keys whey they discovered they could not get out.
Another hour passed before Betsy and her mother were able to free themselves and drive to the nearest neighbor to call the police. Both on the night of the 18th and today, the 19th, large contingents of police were investigating, taking finger prints and such. Betsy describes them as very supportive and sympathetic. The stolen car is still missing at this time.
Today the Boquete community fell in to support Betsy and her mother, who are being well and lovingly cared of in this time of trauma. Alto al Crimen is also taking a role in the investigation, even as it reels from the loss of key board member Lee Zeltzer only days before.
Please be on the lookout for a red Nissan Frontier pickup with black roof racks and with plate # 782 874.
The question of why remains unanswered at this time. This was clearly an organized hit, with the leader frustrated and taking directions during the event. Were Joe and Betsy really the intended victims? No guns, no money, no valuables. It seems likely that the shooting was in fact an accident, a reflex by a novice shooter high on adrenaline and what else?
Make no mistake, Betsy has seen her idyllic life in Panama destroyed and will never recover from the PTSD that will haunt her forever.
What can we all learn from this tragic event? First and foremost, not taking care of your personal security is not an option. In no country in the world can the police protect you from this kind of attack. It is up to YOU to provide for the safety of your home and your life.
Our prayers are with Betsy and her mother Lorraine. Please give them all of your love.