<<< Dave Laitinen and his wife Cindy were recently robbed at gunpoint along with a number of other tourists in the Bahamas. Laitinen’s first concern was the safety of his wife and that he might never see his young children again.
Photograph by: Scott Webster, The Windsor Star, The Windsor Star
With a shotgun barrel pressed against the base of his skull, Dave Laitinen lay face down in the dirt and prayed to see his little girls again.
Laitinen and his wife Cindy, from Windsor, were among 18 tourists on an excursion from a Disney cruise in the Bahamas when they were ambushed and robbed in a daring daylight attack by two armed bandits.
As Laitinen listened to the men shout orders and plan their ambush of the next group of tourists, he wondered if their voices would be the last thing he heard.
He thought about his daughters, Brianna, 10, and Naomi, 8.
“I did feel the gun on the back of my head,” said Laitinen, who works in the ad services department at The Windsor Star. “I just wanted them to leave. I wanted to see my kids. If I’m seeing my kids, then my wife’s seeing my kids. I don’t care what they took. I wanted Cindy as far away from here as possible.
“I remember trying to breathe properly, because I was getting all the different emotions tied up.
“I didn’t want to lose my cool and get somebody hurt. I constantly tried to count down from five, just trying to keep my breathing in check.”
The attack happened around lunchtime Friday at an eco-tourism attraction in the capital city of Nassau. The group of tourists, who now call themselves the Disney Nine after their harrowing ordeal, were riding Segways down a dirt trail in the rainforest. Laitinen was following his wife.
“I looked over her shoulder and noticed there were two gentlemen that came off the service road. Our guide was already getting off the segway and going to the ground.”
At first, everyone thought it was a joke. It was pirate theme night on the boat. The illusion was short-lived.
“I noticed they both had pump shotguns in their hands,” said Laitinen.
Laitinen threw his Segway to the ground and put himself between his wife and the gunmen. Trapped between thick bush and an aqueduct, there was no escape.
“That was my only concern at that point, to shield her,” said Laitinen.
The men shouted at everyone to get face down on the ground. Then there was silence. Laitinen’s heart was racing.
One of the men pressed his gun against Laitinen’s head, then took his wallet.
After the men robbed everyone, they waited. There was another tour coming.
Laitinen and his fellow travellers lay helplessly on the ground, listening to the whirring sound of the other group’s segways getting louder as they unwittingly rolled into the ambush.
“We couldn’t do a single thing to help these people and we knew what was going to happen to them,” said Laitinen. “We could hear them coming. They were shouting and laughing and having a good time. Then we had to lie there on the ground kissing the dirt, listening to the whole experience over again.”
But this time, it was more violent. The men ordered that group’s tour guide into the ditch. They helped convince her with a kick and a gun butt to the head.
There was the jingle of coins hitting the ground. Then a shotgun blast.
“Is this it?” Laitinen wondered.
Then he could hear a woman yelling. It was the tour guide who had been beaten, calling over a radio for help. The armed men had disappeared.
Laitinen thinks the gun blast, fired into the ground just a few feet away, was to freeze the victims in fear so the bandits could escape.
Laitinen looked at his wife. She was OK.
They helped free their own tour guide, whose arms were tied around a stick behind his back. Laitinen also found his wallet on the ground. It was $400 lighter.
He said Disney tried to make it up to them with free fine dining upgrades on the boat, giving their excursion money back, offering another free excursion the next day on a different island and other perks.
They will also get half off their next cruise. But Laitinen won’t be returning to Nassau.
He heard later that another Canadian was robbed the same day in Nassau.
“I would stay on the boat and look at the other side,” he said. “I would look at the ocean. I wouldn’t even look at the island itself. That’s how tainted I am with that island.”
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