An Oklahoma tourist says he faces 12 years in prison in the Caribbean after he mistakenly left 4 bullets from a hunting trip in his carry-on duffel bag

An Oklahoma tourist says he faces 12 years in prison in the Caribbean after he mistakenly left 4 bullets from a hunting trip in his carry-on duffel bag
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Motorboat pulling an inflatable seat over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea in front of a busy beach. Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos Islands.
Motorboat pulling an inflatable seat over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea in front of a busy beach. Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos Islands.

  • Ryan Watson was on vacation when he was charged with illegally carrying ammo into Turks and Caicos.
  • He and his wife, Valerie, say the four bullets in their duffel bag were unknowingly left there from a hunting trip.
  • Watson now faces 12 years in prison, alongside several US tourists who say they made the same mistake.

An Oklahoma man traveling with his wife in the Caribbean territory of Turks and Caicos faces 12 years in prison after four rounds of ammunition were found in his luggage.

Ryan and Valerie Watson arrived in Turks and Caicos earlier this month to celebrate his 40th birthday with several other couples, their families said in a GoFundMe. NBC Boston reported that the Watsons arrived on April 7.

But the pair, who have two young children, were arrested in the self-governed British territory after airport security found the four bullets in their carry-on duffel bag.

Their families’ GoFundMe said the ammo had been left in the bag unintentionally, and was from a prior deer hunting trip.

“They were hunting ammunition rounds that I use for white-tailed deer, and I recognized them, and I thought: ‘Oh, what a mistake.’ I had no idea that they were in there,” Ryan Watson told NBC News.

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Valerie Watson was released from the charges on Tuesday and flew back to Oklahoma to reunite with her children.

But her husband remains in Turks and Caicos, and was granted $15,000 bail the day after by the local supreme court, according to a police statement.

He now faces 12 years in prison, which is the minimum custodial sentence for bringing firearms or ammunition into Turks and Caicos.

Ryan Watson must stay on the islands and report twice a week to a local police station while waiting for his hearing, which is set for June 7.

Meanwhile, his family is trying to raise $300,000 for his legal fees and housing in the Caribbean.

“Isolated from their family, friends, and children, they face mounting legal fees, living expenses, and the overwhelming stress of their situation,” their GoFundMe reads. “The emotional and financial toll is immense, and they are at risk of losing everything.”

“We were trying to pack board shorts and flip flops,” Valerie Watson told CBS News. “Packing ammunition was not at all our intent.”

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The Watsons did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours by Business Insider through their GoFundMe.

Eight US tourists prosecuted since February

It is illegal to bring firearms or ammunition into Turks and Caicos, and penalties apply regardless of the offender’s status or country of origin, according to the local attorney general’s chambers.

Several tourists caught under this law were previously let off with just a fine, while at least one was given a prison sentence under the minimum limit.

But in February, a court of appeal ordered that all offenders be given at least the minimum sentence of 12 years in prison.

At least eight tourists from the US have since been prosecuted under this rule, per the attorney general’s chambers.

Another American tourist, 31-year-old Tyler Wenrich, was charged on Tuesday with possessing ammunition after he arrived in Turks and Caicos on a cruise ship, according to local police.

“While going through a security checkpoint, it was discovered Mr Wenrich allegedly had ammunition in his possession,” a police statement said.

Amid the recent spate of tourist arrests, the US State Department published a September advisory warning US citizens that it wouldn’t be able to secure their release if they brought firearms and ammo into Turks and Caicos.

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“We strongly encourage you to carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing for TCI,” the advisory said.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours by Business Insider.

Tourism is a key revenue for Turks and Caicos, and in 2019 provided about $787 million, or 65% of the island’s GDP, to the territory, per a 2023 report by the Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce.

The Caribbean archipelago is a popular port of call for US cruise ships, and this year has seen a 127% jump in tourist arrivals — the largest increase in the world — compared to 2019, the United Nations World Tourism Organization said in February.

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