US expat recounts harrowing assault by gunmen

I was  renting a small a house in  Reparto San Juan, a residential neighborhood off the highway near the entrance to Granada. On the evening of Dec. 16, there were only two people at home in the complex: me and another U.S. citizen staying nearby. 

I rarely stayed there on Monday nights, since I have a small apartment in Matagalpa. But that day was an exception because the American Legion was having a Christmas party for a local orphanage the following Wednesday; so I was sticking around in Granada for a few extra days. 

I was reading the newspaper on the patio in front of my house shortly after 9 p.m. when four masked gunmen came around the corner and jumped me before I could even get out of my chair. Three were pointing semi-automatic weapons at me. They had been hiding around the corner of the apartment, only about 12 feet from where I was sitting with the newspaper. The said “calmate o te matamos” (Keep calm, or we will kill you). They had Nicaraguan accents. 

I started talking to them as loudly as I could in attempt to draw attention; when they started beating me I yelled for help, hoping to alert the guard posted at the front game of our small complex. Two of the gunmen crammed the barrels of their guns into my nose and temple, while the third beat me with the handle of his gun. They beat, kicked and dragged me to the back of the complex, while I fought the best I could, hoping that if I delayed them help would come. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that our guard and his wife, who cleaned our apartments, were tied up on the floor of an empty apartment. The assailants then tied me up and dragged to where the guard and his wife were being held. All three of us were kept there, under armed guard, while the other gunman cleaned out my house. They took my car and left after 30 minutes. My car was later found at the entrance to the Masaya Volcano, halfway to Managua.  

Frank Hammette with Granada policemen the day after the assault.

I was able to untie myself, and when the assailants left I went to wake up my neighbor and we drove to the police station, since no one seemed to have a phone number for the police. 

Four police officers went to my apartments to file a report. Later that night I went to the Japanese hospital in Granada and was kept under observation for the night. X-rays showed I had three broken ribs and a broken nose. I suffered multiple bruises all over my body and damage to my throat. The gunmen also broke several of my teeth. 

The following day, more police arrived at my apartment, including forensic specialists from Managua. They spend much of the day at the scene of the crime, fingerprinting everything, including the car. The police were helpful and appeared sincere about investigating the crime. But three weeks later, I have not heard back from them; it does not appear they have made any arrests — at least no one has notified me of such. Still, it’s early in the investigation.  

I believe the assailants were professionals; if they are not stopped, they will do it again.  If this criminal gang is based in Managua, it should be of concern to everyone  in Granada. Managua is only 30 minutes away by car.  

I feel that I — and perhaps others in the complex — were targeted because we’re gringos. We have more stuff to  steal. As Jesse James said, “I robs banks because that’s where the money is.” 

I returned to the United States following the attack. Without a passport I would not have been allowed to leave the country, but the U.S. Embassy was very helpful. In less than two hours I received a temporary passport to leave Nicaragua. The staff at the U.S. Embassy was expecting me and had a man waiting to receive me and help get me a replacement passport. The level of attention they provided surprised me because my previous experiences with other U.S. embassies around the world were not as positive. I would like to compliment the U.S consulate staff and the ambassador. 

Frank Hammette is retired from a career in law and business. He has lived in several countries and traveled to more than 100 others, including every one in Latin America.

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