Castara residents want swift justice after shooting incident

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Spiritual Baptist leader Bishop Inniss Edwards, with arms outstretched, leads villagers in prayers after a news conference at the Castara Community Centre on Augsut 24. – Corey Connelly

A SHOOTING incident in idyllic village of Castara, Tobago, on August 19, has marred its reputation as a tranquil, family-oriented community.

And the residents are demanding swift justice.

The villagers said they are not taking the incident lightly and have vowed to protect the area from unsavoury elements.

“We have gathered here to present a united front, to highlight a grave concern that has deeply troubled us all, which is the misuse of firearms within our community,” Nikida Walker said on August 24 during a news conference at the Castara Community Centre.

She was joined by other villagers, some of whom are members of various Castara-based organisations, including the village council, Tourism Development Association and Fisherfolk Association. The leaders of several faith-based organisations were also present.

They all wore white, a colour associated with peace, in a show of solidarity.

Walker said the village was shaken by the incident, adding it was crucial that the issue be addressed “head on.”

According to reports, the alleged offender, who has a legal firearm, shot a car after a disagreement with a man over a fencing post. Several people reportedly witnessed the incident, which occurred around 7.15pm.

The police visited the scene but residents said they have not got any update from the investigating officers.

They claimed the alleged offender is still “walking up and down the road, scot-free.”

The villagers are urging the police to thoroughly investigate the matter.

“We have prepared letters to be submitted to the relevant authorities, including a formal letter of complaint to be delivered to the ACP Tobago Collis Hazel,” said Walker.

“These letters outline our concerns, our demands for action and our resolve to uphold the values that we find in Castara. We implore all others to take swift and decisive measures to ensure the safety of our community and hold those responsible for this misuse accountable.”

She acknowledged while there are laws governing the responsible use and ownership of firearms for security and recreational purposes, the shooting “demonstrated a blatant disregard for these principles upon which we stand as citizens of TT.

“The actions of one individual have cast a dark shadow over our collective commitment to a peaceful way of life in Castara.”

Walker said the community believes the perpetrator used his “legally armed status as a cover for unlawful and dangerous behaviour.”

She continued, “But we want to send a very strong message to all persons involved in criminal activity, gun violence and all such heinous acts, that Castara is not the place for you. You are not welcomed in our community…We will not sit idly by and watch this be destroyed by the actions of one individual.”

A haven for tourists and those in search of an authentic, Tobago experience, Walker said residents have worked tirelessly to develop Castara’s tourism product.

Over the years, the fishing village, situated on the north-eastern part of the island, has been honoured locally and internationally for its community spirit and eco-tourism initiatives.

Last December, it was selected for participation in the upgrade programme of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s Best Tourism Village initiative.

According to the UN organisation, a Best Tourism Village label is awarded to a village that is “an outstanding example of a rural tourism destination with recognised cultural and natural assets that preserves and promotes community-based values, products and lifestyle…and has a clear commitment to sustainability in all its aspects.”

Walker urged tourists, who may have already planned to stay in Castara during the upcoming tourist season, to keep their bookings.

“We expect a bountiful tourist season, so we say to you, ‘Castara is still safe and open for business.’ We consider our visitors as family because they come to share in the authentic experience of who we are and we fight for our family.

“So we assure you that we will fight for your safety and it will never be in question when you come here.”

Natasha Legall-Roberts was born and raised in Castara but now lives in Moriah.

She said up until the incident on August 19, she has never felt unsafe in the village.

“The incident happened very close to her mother’s house and all of a sudden I find myself fearful to walk on the street in my own village,” said Legall-Roberts.

She said residents have always been able to solve their disagreements without violence.

“I grow up in a village where, if we have arguments we will take it to the courthouse. We mean we will take it to the beach. Castara bay have judge, jury and executioner. Case does call, try and execution does take place the same day. However, after that process, everybody sit, drink and lime together.”

Legall-Roberts said the village has worked hard to preserve and maintain its unity.

“We eh backing them shots, we eh grow so, we doh live so and we eh taking that.”

She gave the alleged offender an ultimatum: Conform to our way of life or get out.

Spiritual Baptist leader Bishop Innis Edwards has lived in Castara for all of his 87 years.

He said the village has survived on peace and love.

“No matter how far apart we go, when coming to disaster we are together. And I have never seen or hear or believe that this thing would happen in Castara,” Edwards said.

He added Castara has always stood against everything that is wrong in the community.

“We are a law-abiding people. We are a people that stand for principle.”

Edwards said the alleged offender “was not from Castara but come here.”

He said he and the man’s father were close friends.

“But he was not born in Castara. And we don’t want him to destroy Castara.”

President of the Castara Tourism Development Association Brian Taylor urged villagers across Tobago to reject gun violence.

“What we are doing here is not just for Castara, but we are sending a message to the wider communities around Tobago,” he said.

Taylor, however, lamented some communities were not united.

“Our murder rate gone up to eight, which is unusual for Tobago. And it is because people in communities, whether you are in a village council, whether you are a farmers’ association, they don’t stand together.

“But in Castara, we are standing together to say no to this type of action. So the message is out. We want communities in Tobago to do the same. Secure your village, chat with your people. Be vigilant.”

Pastor Bevon Benjamin, of the Castara SDA Church, applauded the villagers’ commitment to preserving peace.

“I want to encourage all of us to bind together and remember that we want to take a firm stand against violence in all its forms and anything that goes against God’s principles,” he said.

Benjamin urged villagers to develop a closer relationship with God.

“Come back to God and let us forge ahead even as we continue to improve our village and maintain safety, unity and be a people that are known for peace, progress, innovation and lifting the standard of this village high all over the world.”

Dwayne Nurse, personal assistant to Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, told the villagers he (Augustine) was aware of the incident and had been in contact with ACP Hazel.

He said Augustine, the electoral representative for the area, “will provide updates as the matter is being investigated.”

Nurse described Castara as the epicentre of eco-tourism on the island.

“But we want to ensure that not only the villagers here are protected and feel safe but that the visitors can come and feel safe as well.”