5th American tourist arrested at Turks and Caicos airport after ammo allegedly found in luggage

May 15, 2024
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Another U.S. tourist was arrested for carrying ammunition in luggage at the Turks and Caicos airport on Monday, weeks after the arrest of an American tourist in the Caribbean territory made national headlines.

The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police told CBS News that “a visitor was arrested at the Howard Hamilton International Airport yesterday [May 13th] after ammunition was allegedly found during a routine security check.” Police did not provide further details about the name or gender of the person arrested. 

Monday’s arrest brought the total number of Americans facing charges for ammunition possession in the British territory to five. Four of the detained Americans have said they brought in the ammunition – but by mistake. 

Ryan Watson, a 40-year-old Oklahoma father of two, made national headlines after ammo was found in his luggage by airport security in April. He is currently out on bail – though confined to the island while his case moves forward – and officials require him to check in at the Grace Bay Police Station every Tuesday and Thursday. He faces a possible mandatory minimum 12-year prison term.

Just days after Watson’s arrest, 30-year-old Tyler Wenrich, a Virginia EMT and father, was detained before boarding a cruise ship on April 20th. He faces a possible 12-year sentence after officials allegedly found two bullets in his luggage last month. 

“I feel like, as a very honest mistake, that 12 years is absurd,” his wife, Jeriann Wenrich, told CBS News in April, who said she doesn’t want to see her 18-month-old son grow up without a dad.

Bryan Hagerich is another American awaiting trial after ammo was found in the Pennsylvania man’s checked bag in February. “I subsequently spent eight nights in their local jail,” Hagerich told CBS News. “Some of the darkest, hardest times of my life, quite frankly.”

Possessing either a gun or ammunition is prohibited in Turks and Caicos, but tourists were previously able to just pay a fine. That changed in February when a court order required even tourists to potentially face mandatory prison time in addition to paying a fine. The territory’s attorney general has said that if a court finds there were exceptional circumstances surrounding the discovery of ammunition, the sentencing judge has discretion to impose a custodial sentence of less than 12 years. 

Eight firearms and ammunition prosecutions involving tourists from the United States have been brought on the island since November 2022.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory in April urging Americans traveling to Turks and Caicos to “carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing from the United States,” noting that “declaring a weapon in your luggage with an airline carrier does not grant permission to bring the weapon into the Turks and Caicos Islands and will result in your arrest.”

“U.S. gun owners may want to take the Turks and Caicos Islands’ actions into account before risking a trip to the Caribbean jurisdiction,” the National Rifle Association said in a news release Monday. “Even U.S. gun owners confident in their ability to purge their luggage of any potential contraband may want to consider the wisdom of spending their money in a jurisdiction that would treat their countrymen in such a manner.” 

—Elizabeth Campbell, Kris Van Cleave and Alex Sundby contributed reporting.

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