ST. MARY, JAMAICA (WIVB) — Exactly how or why WNY native and Christian missionary Harold Nichols was killed remained a mystery two days after his body was found in a bush along the northern coast of Jamaica in St. Mary.
But the killing of Nichols and his friend, another missionary Randy Hentzel, have left the parish badly shaken.
While initial reports stated Nichols, 53, and Hentzel, 48, were shot to death, Jamaica’s police chief said it was unclear how they died. In addition to gunshot wounds, Nichols was also found with wounds that appeared to have been made by a knife or machete.
The men and their wives worked for a Pennsylvania-based religious organization called Teams for Medical Missions.
“Residents of Mango Valley and surrounding areas have expressed outrage and horror at the wanton and senseless killings of these missionaries who gave their time to help the poor and less fortunate,” said Dr. Carl Williams, commissioner of police.
Williams said Hentzel was found at approximately 3 p.m. April 30. Nichols was found on May 1.
When asked about the motive yesterday, Williams said upon initial investigation, it didn’t appear the men had been robbed, although one of the men had been bound.
Autopsies were scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Their results could be available as early as Tuesday night.
Harold Nichols’ wife, Teri, who has also lived in Jamaica for the past 14 years, said Tuesday her husband’s death would not be in vain.
“The last 20 minutes of my husband’s life does not define what he did or what are you stood for or what he loved,” she said. “It’s just it’s just we can explain evil. But we know that God uses evil for good, and we know that he’s going to redeem this, and what my husband what my husband believes in the Lord and his compassion for others, I believe that it’s just going to increase now.”
The murders illustrate the dangers that can go along with missionary work.
Jill Gavin is originally from Hamburg, but for the past year and a half, has worked in West Africa as a grant manager for World Hope International.
She said her biggest concern is not violent, but petty, crime. In fact, a man attempted to rob the purse off her back less than two months ago.
“It was midnight, but I live on a main street,” she said. “I live just a couple blocks away and I was just switching from one cab to another and a guy just ran up to me and broke my purse and got it off my back. Luckily I held on to it.”
Gavin said she’s learned to be more cognizant of her safety.
“The house I was living in for a couple months when I was in Sierra Leone, they said don’t walk after dark because a friend of mine got robbed on the street,” Gavin said. “We generally have security guards outside of our house, so I would ask the security guard’s a walk me to the road or a more public place and I feel safer.”
Still, Gavin said she believes West Africa is no more dangerous than her hometown of Hamburg. And, like Teri Nichols, she said her work is worth it.
“I stick out a little bit more in West Africa, so maybe I’m at a bigger risk, but I feel safer over there sometimes than I do here when I’m driving down the street and people are texting while they’re driving,” she said. “I don’t feel at any bigger risk necessarily than at home. And it’s really worth it, for me.”
Jamaica has long struggled with high rates of violent crime. The island of less than 3 million people had at least 1,192 slayings in 2015, a roughly 20 percent increase from the previous year but less than the record 1,683 people killed in 2009.
By comparison, Chicago, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, has approximately 2.8 million people. The Windy City had 492 murders in 2015.
“We are concerned because perception sometimes is more important than reality,” said Jamaica’s former Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. “And so we are concerned about the perception that we continue to prevail by meeting a reputation of crimes in Jamaica.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.