SAN JOSE, Costa Rica Feb 23, 2007 (AP)— An American tourist who watched as a U.S. military veteran in his 70s used his bare hands to kill an armed assailant in Costa Rica said she thought the attempted robbery was a joke until the masked attacker held a gun to her head.
"I thought it was a skit. But then he pointed the gun at my head and grabbed me by the throat and I thought I was going to die," Clova Adams, 54, told The Associated Press by telephone Friday from the Carnival Liberty cruise ship.
The assault occurred during a ship stopover Wednesday in Limon, 80 miles east of San Jose, Costa Rica's capital.
Adams was with 12 American tourists who hired a driver to explore Costa Rica for a few hours. They were climbing out of the van to visit a Caribbean beach when three men wearing ski masks ran toward them, she said. One held a gun to her head, while the other two pulled out knives.
Suddenly, one of the tourists, a U.S. military veteran trained in self defense, jumped out of the van and put the gunman in a headlock, according to Limon police chief Luis Hernandez.
Hernandez said the American, whom he refused to identify, struggled with the robber, breaking his collarbone and eventually killing him. Police identified the dead man as Warner Segura, 20. The other two assailants fled.
"I was very scared at the moment," Costa Rican bus driver Roberto Frances Allen said in an interview in Limon.
"The bus was shaking and women were screaming," he recalled. "There were two shots and I heard him (Segura) try to fire more, but the gun didn't fire. Luckily, the tourists had forced his hand up and the shots hit the roof of the bus."
Afterward, the tourists drove Segura to a hospital, where he was declared dead. Sergio Lopez, a Red Cross auxiliary, examined Segura's body and said he died from asphyxiation.
Lopez also treated Adams for a panic attack.
"She was very nervous after the assault, but she had not been physically hurt," Lopez said.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed the account, but refused to release the name of the American who defended the group, citing his right to privacy.
Costa Rican officials interviewed the Americans, and said they wouldn't charge the U.S. tourist with any crime because he acted in self defense.
"They were in their right to defend themselves after being held up," Hernandez said. He said Segura had previous charges against him for assaults.
But Ligia Herrera Mendez, the mother of the dead assailant, claimed the tourists of took the law into their own hands.
"We want justice, this can't go unpunished, because they could have saved him," she said in an interview in Limon. "If this had happened in the United States, the suspect would have been detained and wouldn't have left the country."
She also acknowledged past problems. "I know my boy wasn't staying out of trouble, I knew that any moment I would get bad news."
Segura was buried Friday in the town of Liverpool, about 10 miles outside Limon.
The cruise ship delayed its departure until the group boarded the ship, The Carnival Liberty, which was set to return Sunday to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Adams spoke freely with the AP until a man who identified himself as her fiancee said they didn't want to talk to the media. He said the group might release a joint statement later and hung up the telephone.
Officials on the ship refused to pass an AP reporter on to other members of the tourist group, and several attempts to reach Adams' room again failed.
Costa Rica has struggled with growing violence and crime in recent years. University of Kansas student Shannon Martin, 23, was stabbed to death in 2001 after she left a nightclub in Golfito, 105 miles south of San Jose.
Carnival Cruise Lines confirmed in a statement that one of the ship's guests had killed the Costa Rican assailant, but refused to name those involved.
"All of the guests involved, who had booked the cruise together as a group, have opted to continue with their vacation plans. Carnival is providing full support and assistance to the guests," the statement said.