July 25, 2015 12:05 am
Updated: July 26, 2015 6:44 pm

Port Alberni man living in Panama killed in front of family during home invasion

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WATCH: A Port Alberni man has been murdered in Panama in a brazen killing. Joe Potrebenko, his wife and mother-in-law moved to Central America years ago, but their life was shattered last weekend when armed men stormed their home. Jeremy Hunka reports.

A Port Alberni man was murdered during a home invasion in Panama a week ago and the culprits are still on the loose.

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An official with Panama’s Office of Judicial Inquiry confirmed with Global News that a Canadian man was killed in his home, located between the town of Boquete and the nearby city of David. The mountainous area in western Panama is popular with tourists and expats.

Locals with knowledge of the crime have identified the victim as 53-year-old Joe Potrebenko, a Vancouver Island man who had lived in Central America with his wife Betsy for more than a decade.

“It’s an absolutely horrifying crime,” said Mark Heyer, a Boquete resident who was friends with Potrebenko. “It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation.”

“From what we know now about what happened, it’s quite possible that they were not the intended targets.”

Officials say the three suspects have not been apprehended.

According to friends, Potrebenko was watching television with his wife and mother-in-law when three armed men crawled into their yurt-style home through a window.

“The first guy that came through had a gun and Joe put his hands up and the guy shot him in the abdomen,” said Heyer.

“Then they threw the women on top of him, tied them up and proceeded to ransack the house.”

The suspects reportedly stole some electronic equipment and the victim’s pickup truck, which was later recovered in the city of David.

Contacts on the ground in Panama believe this may have been a gang hit that targeted the wrong people.

“We do know now after some investigation that this was a not a random event,” said Heyer. “This was a gang hit. It is related quite likely to two other crimes that were committed in the community previously. The neighbours of Betsy and Joe were good friends with the victim of another similar crime only about a week before in a different town.

“It’s quite possible that Betsy and Joe were not the intended targets. They were looking for guns and money. Betsy and Joe had neither of those.”

Joe’s mother Ruby described her son as a “gentle giant” who was “always loved everywhere he went.”

“I just hope and pray that they find these guys and we can all have some peace,” she said.

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up for Potredenko’s widow.

-With files from Jeremy Hunka

© 2015 Shaw Media

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