4 Americans charged in Turks and Caicos, accused of bringing live ammo to the islands

ByAmanda Musa, CNN CNNWire logo
Friday, May 10, 2024
American jailed in Turks & Caicos after cruise security found ammunition in his luggage speaks out
Tyler Scott Wenrich is among four Americans charged with possession of ammunition offenses in the tropical Atlantic getaway of Turks and Caicos

Four Americans are charged with possession of ammunition offenses in the tropical Atlantic getaway of Turks and Caicos, according to a post from the Turks and Caicos Islands Government.

Carrying firearms in Turks and Caicos is prohibited, according to the TCI Government. Bringing firearms or ammunition, including stray rounds, into the British Overseas Territory without prior permission from police is "strictly forbidden."

Individuals who violate the law face a minimum 12 years in prison, according to an April advisory from the US Embassy in the Bahamas. A post on X from the island government said judges do have discretion to lower the minimum when there are "exceptional circumstances."

According to the post from the Turks and Caicos government, the four Americans are: Michael Lee Evans, 72; Bryan Hagerich (no age listed); Tyler Scott Wenrich, 31; and Ryan Tyler Watson, 40.

'Darkest days and nights of my life'

Hagerich detailed his recent arrest in Turks and Caicos in an ABC exclusive after pleading guilty to bringing live ammunition into the islands while on vacation.

He is expected to be sentenced on May 29, a lawyer representing him told CNN. A court heard pre-sentencing arguments from Hagerich's defense team and prosecutors on May 3, according to his attorney, Oliver Smith. Smith said he is challenging "the constitutionality of the legislation as it relates to how the judge can sentence a defendant under the current law."

The court is expected to rule on that constitutional point and sentence Hagerich according to its ruling on May 29, Smith said.

In the interview with ABC's Matt Rivers ahead of the court proceedings, Hagerich said bringing the ammunition with him was an accident.

Bryan Hagerich is facing a dozen years in a Turks and Caicos prison after airport security found ammunition in his suitcase back in February.

Hagerich was arrested in February after several rounds of ammunition were found in his luggage while going through airport security, he told ABC. Hagerich and his family were leaving Turks and Caicos and returning home following a vacation with their children, he said.

While at the airport, Hagerich told ABC his name was called over the PA system after his bag was selected for random search.

Authorities then found hunting ammunition Hagerich said he'd forgotten was in his bag following a recent trip.

Bryan's wife, Ashley, told ABC she begged officials to go easy on them.

"I remember pleading like, 'Can't we just pay a fine? Like it was an honest mistake,'" Ashley told ABC, "And it was a firm, 'No.'"

Hagerich told the outlet in an interview aired Friday morning that he was arrested in front of his children, aged four and six, and spent eight nights in jail.

"Those were the absolute darkest days and nights of my life," Hagerich said.

Hagerich pleaded guilty to possession of 20 rounds of ammunition, according to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government.

Hagerich is asking for leniency.

"I'm the first to acknowledge that I take full responsibility for my actions." But Hagerich added, "There are alternative ways that this can be handled and dealt with that are within the laws of Turks and Caicos that will allow me to return home to my family."

More ammunition-related offenses

While out on bail, Hagerich has been sharing a short-term rental with another American recently charged under the law, Ryan Watson, he told ABC.

"This is like probably the loneliest I've ever been in my entire life," Watson told ABC's Matt Rivers. "To have somebody that's experiencing the, the very same thing as you... It gives you some bit of support," he added.

Watson was arrested at the Howard Hamilton International Airport on the island of Providenciales on April 12 for a similar offense, according to TCI police. After posting a $15,000 bail, Watson was released from jail on April 24 but was forced to surrender his passport and remain on the archipelago.

His next court hearing is set for June 7, according to the TCI Government.

Watson and his wife, Valerie, were detained upon departure from Turks and Caicos where they had been celebrating several of their friends' 40th birthdays, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with expenses.

Airport security found four rounds of ammunition "unknowingly left in a duffel bag from a deer hunting trip," the post said.

Valerie Watson was released of charges and allowed to return to Oklahoma, an April 23 update from the fundraising page shows. The page does not give a reason for her release.

The TCI government has declined to comment further on the Americans arrested.

The ammunition was "not noticed by TSA when leaving America," the GoFundMe post said. "Now, they are facing a legal system that is unfamiliar, daunting, and expensive."

In a statement to CNN, the TSA confirmed earlier this month that four rounds of ammunition were not detected in a traveler's bag during a security screening at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, from which Watson was traveling.

"TSA takes its security mission very seriously," a TSA spokesperson said. "TSA is here to protect our transportation security systems, and an oversight occurred that the agency is addressing internally."

The agency added that it is working on perfecting systems that detect prohibited items to ensure seamless and safe travel.

CNN has reached out to the Watson and Hagerich families for more information on their cases and is attempting to reach attorneys for both men.

Two additional Americans - Michael Lee Evans and Tyler Scott Wenrich - are also facing lengthy prison sentences for possessing ammunition, according to the TCI Government.

Tyler Scott Wenrich is among four Americans who facing possession of ammunition offenses in the tropical Atlantic getaway of Turks and Caicos
Tyler Scott Wenrich is among four Americans who facing possession of ammunition offenses in the tropical Atlantic getaway of Turks and Caicos

Wenrich, who is a father, 911 operator and EMT from Virginia is the latest American arrested to face these charges and spoke out to ABC News.

"The last few weeks have been, I mean, they've been pretty miserable and full of uncertainty," Wenrich said.

Now, just after his release on bail, the 31-year-old is stuck in the tropical islands while his wife Jerriann is back home in the U.S. and taking care of their 18-month-old son.

"I don't have my best friend with me and that's hard," she told ABC News.

Wenrich says he boarded the cruise for a bachelor party in April. The boat docked in Grand Turk two days later. When he returned to the ship later that day, he says security searched his backpack and found two rounds of ammo that TSA and port security had not previously flagged.

Royal Caribbean then turned him in to local police.

"I didn't know how strict the laws were," Wenrich said. "Obviously, I knew that having ammunition in a carry-on, you know, was prohibited back in the states. But I didn't realize the extent of the Turks and Caicos laws."

He admits to the oversight, saying he had gone shooting at a gun range with friends before traveling and forgot he was carrying the ammo.

"Although I take a lot of responsibility for it because I have to... it's my bag," Wenrich said, adding that, "three entities, including myself, overlooked this ammunition in that bag so it can happen to anybody."

TSA says they can't confirm whether ammunition was in the bag because they don't have evidence.

Royal Caribbean told ABC News that guests are required to comply with all national laws in every country, adding "we have been in constant communication with his family and have worked behind the scenes to help him and his family."

"Travelers are strongly advised to search their luggage before they travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands to ensure they do not bring in forbidden items inadvertently," the TCI Government post said. "The Transportation Security Administration screening in the United States may not identify ammunition in a traveler's baggage."

Airline passengers are also encouraged to research local laws when traveling internationally and to start packing for trips with an empty bag, the TSA said.

Know before you go to Turks and Caicos

Prospective tourists considering a trip to Turks and Caicos do have access to warnings from TCI and the US State Department about the British Overseas Territory's weapons and ammunition laws - if you know where to find them online.

Last month, the State Department released a travel warning advising Americans to "carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing from the United States. Firearms, ammunition (including stray bullets), and other weapons are not permitted in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms-and-ammunition-related laws."

There is also more detailed information on the department's Turks and Caicos webpage under the header of "Local Laws & Special Circumstances."

Travelers can find out critical information from the State Department for any destination here.

(The-CNN-Wire & 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

ABC News contributed to this report.