A motorist who shot dead two environmental protesters blocking a road in Panama on Tuesday is a retired American lawyer, it has been revealed.
Kenneth Darlington, 77, appeared before a judge in the town of La Espiga on Wednesday afternoon, and after a two-hour hearing was remanded in custody.
According to local media, the Panamanian-born US citizen – who was seen in both video and pictures shooting dead two teachers blocking a road on a highway – has a previous conviction for illegal possession of a firearm.
It is understood he declared ‘this ends here’ before walking up to the road block on a section of the Pan-American Highway in the Chame district and getting into a heated argument with a group of men that included the two victims.
In front of a large number of photographers and television crews there to film the protest, he then gunned down the two men.
Eliécer Plicett, a lawyer for the two victims, said Darlington was being charged with murder and illegal possession of a gun, TVN Noticias reported. However, local media has reported he could avoid jail time because of his age.
A motorist who shot dead two environmental protesters blocking a road in Panama on Tuesday is a retired American lawyer (pictured), it has been revealed
Kenneth Darlington, 77, (seen Tuesday) appeared before a judge in the town of La Espiga on Wednesday afternoon, and after a two-hour hearing was remanded in custody
Darlington was seen in footage pulling a gun from his pocket and waving it in front of the protesters as he got into a heated argument with them in the middle of the road
Darlington is seen in video of the incident gesturing with the handgun in his right hand, as he argues with the protesters blocking the road
One man, seen in a black t-shirt holding a flag, got into a heated argument with Darlington (left). The American is understood to have said ‘I want to talk to men’
This is the moment one of two environmental protesters blocking a road in Panama was shot dead by the irate driver, who had told people in the car he was in earlier: ‘this ends here’
The first man to be shot is seen being treated on the ground by two bystanders
A second man also confronted the gunmen. This photo was taken moments before he was also shot by Darlington in Chame, Panama
The protesters have for three weeks been campaigning against the Panamanian government’s agreement with a Canadian firm to run Central America’s biggest open-pit copper mine for at least another 20 years.
The mine is in an environmentally sensitive area.
Darlington, who lived in the exclusive Paitilla district of Panama City, got stuck in traffic caused by the protesters who had set up a road block on the highway, about 55 miles west of Panama City, the country’s capital.
He reportedly told other passengers in the car as he got out: ‘This ends today.’
Video and pictures show how he stormed up the road from his car to the road block and starts arguing with the group, mostly made up of teachers.
He then takes a handgun out of his pocket and then begins clearing the barricade on the motorway, still arguing with protesters.
TVN reported that Darlington asked several teachers who the leaders of the demonstration were. The protesting teachers told him that there were no leaders, so he replied: ‘I don’t want to talk to women. I want to talk to men.’
At the court hearing, it was heard that a few men were at the scene, and three of them approached him in an attempt to calm the situation.
This can be seen in the footage of the incident leading up to the shootings. The three men – two in black t-shirts and one in red – confront the man.
One of the demonstrators can be heard saying: ‘Why don’t you shoot?’ Others shouted at the man: ‘Are you going to kill someone?’ to which he replied: ‘Do you want to be the first?’ according to reports.
After remonstrating with the protesters, Darlington is then seen to open fire.
The first victim – seen in the footage wearing a black t-shirt, blue hat and carrying a flag – fell to the ground immediately.
As the man in red backs away, Darlington opens fire again, hitting the other man wearing a black t-shirt. He can be seen holding his shoulder, grimacing in pain and staggering over to the side of the road where he falls down.
One of the victims, Abdiel Díaz, died at the scene, according to The Times.
The other victim, Iván Rodríguez, 62, was taken to the Juan Vega Méndez clinic in the nearby town of San Carlos, but was dead on arrival at the hospital.
Darlington is seen standing in the middle of the road after being seen to have shot two people in the middle of the protest, sending bystanders running for cover
Darlington is seen holding a handgun after walking up to a teachers’ blockade on the Pan-American Highway in Chame, Panama
Still holding the handgun, Darlington is seen attempting to clear the blockade in the road
Darlington is arrested after shooting two protesters with a gun in the middle of a teachers’ blockade on the Pan-American Highway in Chame, Panama
Darlington is seen being put into the back of a police van after the shooting incident on Tuesday. According to reports, he could avoid jail on account of his age
TVN reported that after Darlington cleared away more of the road block, handgun still in hand, he returned to his car.
One of the other people in the car asked him: ‘Are you aware of what has happened?’ The court heard his response was: ‘Yes, I killed one and shot another.’
He then got into the car and told a women – reported to be his girlfriend: ‘Let’s go’.
She replied: ‘We’re not leaving.’ TVN reports that the woman then called National Police Agents, who later stopped the car and seized the firearm. Footage shared on social media showed Darlington being handcuffed and taken away by police.
However, if he is convicted, the 77-year-old could be sentences to house arrest and not jail time on account of his age, according to local reports.
The president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, sent his condolences to the dead protesters’ families, saying that such a crime ‘has no place’ in his country.
Local media reported that Darlington, who was born in the Panamanian province of Colon, was attempting to drive back to the interior of the country after various errands in the city of La Chorrera when he came across the roadblock.
Darlington will next appear in court in Panama City on November 15.
He was arrested in 2005 after weapons – including an AK-47 and M-16 – were found in his Panama City apartment, but was acquitted after a court accepted his plea that the weapons were part of a collection.
He was also employed as a spokesman for Marc Harris, a Panamanian accountant who was jailed for 17 years in 2004 after being convicted of money laundering and tax evasion.
The deaths come as street protests by thousands of Panamanians during the past weeks over a new mining contract signed with Canadian mining firm First Quantum Minerals spilled into wider discontent with the government.
Trucks are seen stranded near Sillimin, western Panama, on Tuesday as the protests entered their third week
A woman draped in a Panamanian flag lights a candle during a Wednesday night vigil
Protesters hold a vigil on Wednesday night to remember the two teachers and climate change activists shot dead on Tuesday
A vigil is held on Wednesday evening in Panama
People take part in a roadblock to protest against a big mining contract on a main road near Silimin, western Panama, on Tuesday
Road blocks set up by protesters have caused up to $80 million in daily losses to businesses, according to Panama’s association of company executives, with schools closed nationwide for over a week and more than 150,000 medical appointments missed.
Officials have urged people to end the protests, though construction workers’ and teachers’ unions have vowed to continue taking to the streets until the First Quantum contract is annulled.
The new contract, agreed on October 20, was signed into law by Panama’s government, and provides First Quantum a 20-year mining right with an option to extend for another 20 years, in return for $375 million in annual revenue to Panama.
While the government has said the new contract offers better terms than the previous one, protesters disagree.