The Power of Community: 4 Years After the Tragic Death of Rickilee Mercer at Secret Beach, Another Rescue

Sunday, Feb 28th, I headed out to Secret Beach to attend a memorial service but also a celebration.

Four years ago, 27-year old Texas native Rickilee Mercer was on vacation on Ambergris Caye – she headed out with a friend for some sun and fun at Secret Beach – and later that day, went out with someone else on a jet ski and was then reported missing.

The water at Secret Beach, on the leeward island, is relatively shallow – on average about 3-5 feet in depth – and crystal clear.  But that area, the vast stretch between Ambergris Caye and the mainland, is HUGE…miles and miles of open water, mangrove cayes and not alot of boat traffic.

Rickilee tragically was not found when the sun went down on the day she went missing and then not located until the next afternoon – she had passed away.

Instead of leaving Belize and never coming back (no one would have blamed them!)- her family friends did something AMAZING.  More than amazing.  They turned this incredibly sad tragedy into something miraculous.

Rickilee Rescue and Response was formed and four years later…almost to the day…the on-island team banded together to save a man missing in these very same waters.  Triple RRR Response is an amazing testament to the power of the San Pedro community – and the strength of Rickilee’s friends to turn an unspeakable tragedy into something that saves lives on Ambergris Caye.

Here’s my January 2021 article on the Who What Where When and Why of Rickilee Response on Ambergris Caye.  Including: What they do on the island.  Who they serve.  How they are funded.  How you can help.

Please take a moment, if you haven’t already, to get this number in your phone.

No seriously.  You want this number!

To Secret Beach!  It was a warm overcast and WINDY day.  It had been a windy weekend – winds 20-25mph with gusts up to 45 mph on Sunday afternoon.

There were lots of visitors and local families enjoying the water.

There was a group gathered by the Secret Beach sign.

Supporters and team members met and swapped stories.  Billy Leslie and Vanessa Parham – two of the leaders of the response team – got up to thank everyone and to say a few words.

Gil and Steve and Eddie and Sylvan and Elito and Officer Noble…it’s a community.

Lots of people spoke, many cried.

These two jet skis are brand new and this was supposed to be their first official trip on Belizean waters.

Serious picture.

Fun picture.

Fear not…young Godfrey was just posing for me.  He is not the operator of the jet ski.  Too young for now.

The Jet Skis are named “Discernment” and “Wisdom”.

And were only JUST donated – BOTH OF THEM – by two island residents!

Discernment and Wisdom were actually used the afternoon before, on Saturday, in the rescue response for the man who went missing while out paddling north of Secret Beach.  He was found alive and well – miles from his original position.  Locating him involved three boats (with local tour guides, area experts, and the San Pedro Police Force) and the 2 new jet skis to search some of the shallower inner lagoons.   The Belize Coast Guard was on stand-by. Ultimately, thanks to the amazing FAST response of Tropic Air – and RRR coordinating a spotter on the plane who knows the area well – he was located.  RRR went to pick him up – take his vitals, hydrate him and get him back to Ambergris Caye. Safe and sound.  THANK GOODNESS.

Almost exactly 4 years to the day that Rickilee went missing.  There were lots of tears from her family friends…for her loss but also for the amazing community of San Pedro that has come together to turn this tragedy into something wonderful.

The island’s first coordinated land and air rescue response.  All funded by donations.

Friends brought roses and champagne (Rickilee’s favorites) out on the jet skis to scatter in the water in her memory.

If you can help, please consider it.  No one wants to consider what can go wrong on vacation or just in life.  (Trust me on that one, I am the queen of denial!)  But just to know that this team – fully versed in safety and first aid, fully kitted out with all necessary equipment from jet skis to heavy-duty searchlights to portable defibrillators (AEDs) is EXTRAORDINARY.  They can help you if you think you are having heart problems or if you are lost at sea.

The sun was coming out.   Though I have never met Rickilee, based on the love of her friends and family and their incredible will to help Ambergris Caye and to do this for her, I know she was smiling down on us.

For more on RRR and to donate, please check out their website.


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