Misery of murders haunts 2021

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A crime scene investigator gathers evidence at the scene of a murder in Valencia. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Even with the introduction of a state of emergency (SoE) as a public health response to covid19, which remained in effect from May 15-November 17 – just over half the year – murders remained the number one challenge for the police.

As of December 31, there were 447 murders, a noticeable uptick from the 398 recorded in 2020, but still significantly lower than 2019’s total of 537.

From the tragedy of murdered court clerk Andrea Bharatt in February to gang warfare in Port of Spain and Tunapuna in August and September, 2021 showed a gradual increase in murders.

The carnage began early on New Year’s Day when 42-year-old Darryl Villafana was chopped to death by men at his Geranium Drive, Morvant home.

Hours later, at around 10.25 pm on New Year’s night, 42-year-old Aarif Mohammed was beaten to death, allegedly by two Venezuelan men, at a house in Macoya Extension, Tunapuna.

One of the most prominent cases was Bharatt’s death. On January 29, she got into what she thought was a taxi to go home in Arima but was abducted by two men.

The murder of court clerk Andrea Bharatt ignited outrage across the country and led to the formation of the Candelight Movement which demanded justice for crimes committed against women and girls. Here are two children who joined the protest outside the Red House. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Her decomposing body was found on February 4 off a precipice in the Heights of Aripo, after widespread searches by police and members of the public.

Bharatt’s father Randolph, when contacted by Sunday Newsday on Friday, said he did not have much to say as the grief remained fresh.

“I broke down at 6 am because I’m awake since 2 am.” He wondered how the parents of people who committed the crime felt about their actions.

“You have to find out how the parents feel about the things they have done.”

When asked what suggestions he had for the police to improve crime-fighting capabilities, Bharatt said, “They need serious people to fix the problem.”

Bharatt’s murder stirred nationwide outrage from various advocacy groups, non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private citizens who called for more to be done in protecting women and girls.

Police at the crime scene where five people were murdered at St Micheal’s Village, off St John’s Road, in Tunapuna on July 14. The crime remains unsolved. – Photo by Roger Jacob

In March more than a month later two boys, Semion Daniel, 15, and Antony Francois, 16, escaped from the Children’s Authority Child Support Centre.

Days later on March 28, they were gunned down near an abandoned house in Desperlie Crescent, Laventille, at around 7.30 pm, when two men dressed in police uniforms walked up to them and shot at the group of men who were sitting near them.

While speaking with reporters before the beginning of an anti-crime exercise in Laventille and east Port of Spain in September, acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob said the popularity of automatic rifles among criminals meant that multiple people could be killed in a single volley of fire.

This was realised on July 14 when Teshera McKenna, 39, and her son Jordan McKenna, 19, were driving in a car when they were confronted by gunmen who blocked their path and started shooting at them on the Arima Old Road, Arima.

A family friend, Jeremiah DeFreitas, 18, who was standing near the car was also shot and killed during the attack.

Around the same time, a triple murder occurred miles away at St John’s Road, Tunapuna, where Jasper Jones, Matthew Calliste Pereira and Kaliele Jackson were gunned down in a drive-by shooting near a vendor’s stall.

Just over a month later, brothers Avinash Sookraj, 31, and Jimmy Poon, 25, their brother-in-law Radesh Pooran, 54, Russel Poon, 53, and neighbour Ryan Sookraj, 26, were shot dead in a forested area near Gangadeen River, Carapo, on August 23.

While the SoE, imposed to restrict movement to prevent the spread of covid19, remained in effect several citizens and businesses questioned the reasoning behind having the curfew in place as the murders continued. A relative of one murdered Port of Spain man contended that the curfew was effective in reducing clashes between the “Sixes” gang in St Paul Street and the “Sevens” of Duncan Street.

Prison officers were targetted by criminals behind bars, sparking fear among the ranks and demand for better protection. Here, prison officer carry the casket of their colleague Trevor Serrette who was shot dead on November 26. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

“The police outside and working. They running them (criminals) inside after dark.

“I don’t want any curfew to stop. They could say what they want, but if that curfew is stopped, a lot of people could die.

“Right now Duncan Street is fighting a war with St Paul Street, and (my relative) got killed for just being there at that time.

“The curfew is doing some good.”

While most of the victims of most murders for 2021 were young men between the ages of 18 to 45 years old, there were times where even the elderly were not spared by criminals, sometimes unintentionally.

On October 12, Vaughn Derrick Charles, 68, was walking to a parlour near his Streatham Lodge Road, Tunapuna, home when he was shot dead in a drive-by.

A 19-year-old man identified as Josiah Copeland was also killed in the attack.

Sunday Newsday contacted Charles’ brother Kenneth Morris, 81, on Friday who said while he was still trying to cope with the loss and said policing in the community has improved since the incident.

“One good thing I have noticed is that the police patrols around this area have increased since his murder, up to last night I heard some dogs barking in the street and on checking I saw it was the police driving through.

“Other than that all I can really advise is for the young people to stay more grounded and get closer to spirituality and God.

“Sometimes I pass through and see young people liming on the corners all hour of the night. I want them to get off the street and inside where it’s safe.

“I’d like to see them pick up a Bible and read but when?”

The murder of people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time is another prevalent trend observed for 2021 as a 32-year-old garbage man was shot dead while on the job on Laventille Road, east Port of Spain on October 13.

Police and residents in the area suspect that Nizam Ali Cadette was killed for entering the turf of a rival gang in the area, giving rise to concerns that garbage trucks and other services may need police escorts in some communities.

Sunday Newsday spoke to a close family friend of Cadette and a resident in the area who said the Christmas season was relatively bleak for the community as there was still a lot of uncertainty left behind by the murder.

She added that while tensions between warring gangs seemed to simmer during this period, there was still unease.

“We’re just hoping this foolishness with who is from this neighbourhood or that block can end for the new year.

“We are really hoping the police can give us some closure and find the person or people who did this so we can get justice.”

One month later, in November, Belmont cousins Jada Felician, 15 and Jordan Pierre, 27, were killed while dropping off a friend at his house nearby on St Barbs Road.

Felician burnt to death in the car while Pierre was shot several times when he tried to escape.

Sunday Newsday spoke to Felician’s aunt who said she was still mourning her daughter and nephew’s murders and was angry as no arrests have been made.

“There is also loneliness because it’s my only daughter and nephew and coping with it is very hard, sometimes I just catch myself in a daze and tears come to my eyes because I remember the good times we shared but it’s extremely hard.

“I would like to see more patrols. I want them to do more in taking these guns off the street, try to make peace, I really don’t know.

“Probably bringing back the curfew might do a little justice, I’m not too sure it might but I think if we have some more patrols because the area is a hotspot right now.

Sunday Newsday spoke with criminologist Professor Ramesh Deosaran on Friday who said figures alone were not good enough for the police to be able to understand the rise in murders.

He said for the new year an in-depth and detailed analysis of the different factors that may contribute to crime is needed to properly address issues of crime and security.

“We do not know if covid19 is a contributor or not, we do not know if migration is a contributor, we have some indication that gangs remain key indicators but it is clear now that we have to get a fuller understanding of why the murder rate last year went higher than the year before especially with covid19 in full flourish.

“Because it appears there are a lot of criminal undercurrents that continue to challenge police intelligence and it is now more than ever necessary for the police Crime Analysis and Problem Analysis (CAPA) get down to some serious in-depth work so that we will not merely speculate about these crime statistics but develop operational strategies to alleviate further damage.”