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A year of bloodshed

Gun violence takes body count to 462
Published: 
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Concerned citizens assembled at Nelson Mandela Park in a show of solidarity for murder victims and their families.

By mid 2016, the forecast was for the 2016 murder toll to be between 460 to 461. By December 30, the body count was 455 and over the next day seven more were added to the tally, taking the 2016 toll to 462.

However, this was not the highest ever recorded in T&T—last year’s murder toll was 88 less than the 2008 tally of 550 murders.

The first murders were recorded just as 2016 dawned, when six-year-old Jodel Ramnath and pensioner Alvina Warner, 68, were shot dead in what police said was ongoing warfare between the Rasta City and Muslim gangs in the Port-of Spain Division.

However, the recurring theme for the year was the murder of women, many of which remain unsolved. The most recent, that of bank employee Shannon Banfield whose decomposing body was found in the storeroom of IAM and Company Limited on Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain three days after she was reported missing on December 8. She had been smothered to death. A worker at the store where Banfield’s body was found, Dale Seecharan, has been charged with her murder.

Banfield was one 45 women killed for the year. On the day her body was found, another woman, Cheryl Joan Cooper, was gunned down outside her home at Harmony Hall, near Gasparillo. She had been shot five times at close range.

Early in the year, the murder of Japanese musician Asami Nagakiya grabbed headlines. Nagakiya’s body was found Ash Wednesday under a tree in the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Two other brutal killings of women followed soon afrewe. The first was 26-year-old mother of three, Eden Nekeisha Teesdale, whose headless body was found in a barrel floating in the Mitan River, Manzanilla, on March 15. Teesdale lived at Embarcadere, San Fernando.

One month later, in the same river, another woman’s body was found. The body of Felicia Persad was found floating near the river bank. Investigators said as a concrete block was tied to the plastic in which the body was found wrapped. Persad had been reported missing on April 2.

Anessa Murray, of Cascade Gardens, Cascade, was found shot to death in the driver’s seat of a grey Nissan Slyphy off a dirt road at Penn Trace, Cunupia on February 3.

On March 14, the body of Annmarie Bain, 48, was found down a precipice off the Blanchisseuse Bypass Road Arima. The Preysal woman had been bludgeoned to death with the claw of a hammer, her autopsy revealed. The semi-nude body of her husband, Raj Sookhai, also bludgeoned but with stab wounds to the neck and back as well, had been found at Manzanilla beach hours earlier. 

Four days after she disappeared, the decomposing body of 34-year-old Lisa Matagoolam was found at the bottom of a 20-foot precipice in Gran Couva on September 15. Her hands and feet had bound. Her boyfriend Michael Ramdeo was later charged with her murder.

On October 10, the decomposing body of Vanessa “Buffy” Ackee, a prostitute, was also found  down a precipice, this time off Morne Coco Road. An autopsy revealed that she died after her neck was broken.

With the body count steadily rising as the year progressed, the T&T Police Service (TTPS) came under fire for its low crime detection rate. Head of the Homicide Bureau Senior Supt Sacenarine Mahabir blamed the problem on people being afraid to go to the police for fear of retaliation.

By August, the polticians the Central Division had overtaken Port-of-Spain as the country’s crime hotspot with the highest number of murders. On August 26, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon told police divisional commanders to take charge of their “real estate”. A few months later, divisional commanders were reshuffled in the hope that there would be a turnaround in the murders, particularly in the Northern and Central Divisions. There was minimal, if any effect.

Police were on alert bracing for reprisals following the murder of Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis who was shot dead at his carwash on July 17. One of his attackers, Thomas “Hamza” Sharpe, was killed in the gun battle while Alexis’ friend Kevin Escayg, 43, a project manager of Saldenah Terrace, Macoya, was also killed. Escayg’s son, Kirchard Scott, five, was shot in the abdomen during the incident at Freedom Street, Chaguanas.

On December 4, Alexis’ brother, Mervyn, was also killed not too far from where Robocop was murdered.

Police were baffled at the killings of six men in the Northern Division, including two fathers and sons, who were all shot dead. On November 15, Leon Sobers, his son Shivon Sobers and Joel Alexander were killed at Reid Lane, D’Abadie. Police linked their deaths to the murders of Frank Joseph, his son Kevin Plaza and Plaza’s best friend Ricardo Singh on November 5.

Toward the end of the year, the group Powerful Ladies of T&T (PLOTT) released statistics which showed that 75 per cent of murders were committed using guns. The majority of victims were males of African descent and most of the killings took place between 6 pm and 10 pm.

At the final police briefing for the year on December 23, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams said although there were 42 more murders than in 2015, it had been a reasonably successful year.

“We have seen an increase in murders but we have seen a two per cent decrease in the overall total of murders shootings, woundings and murders,” he said,.

Williams said there was a 23 per cent decline in rapes and other sexual related offences, a 34 per cent reduction in kidnappings and 19 per cent reduction in larceny of motor vehicles. However, fraudulent offences were up by 62 per cent.