In what police believe was a land dispute turned deadly, a 46-year-old female teacher was brutally stabbed with an icepick in front of her Standard Two pupils at the St Pious Boys’ RC School in Arouca on Monday.
Cathy Maharaj is now said to be fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mount Hope, where her condition was classed as “very critical.”
The incident occurred around 2 pm when her attacker, who is said to be 26-years-old, unexpectedly stormed into her classroom and dealt her two stabs in the chest and three stabs to her back in full view of her shocked pupils.
Guardian Media was told that the children began screaming and crying, causing other members of staff to run into the classroom where they found Maharaj on the ground covered in blood.
The attacker fled the scene but has been identified as the ex-boyfriend of one of Maharaj’s close female relatives.
Police have since launched a manhunt for the suspect, whom they said has several matters before the court and is also well-known to the police. He was also shot and wounded a few months ago and was hospitalised.
This incident sparked shock, outrage and horror among parents whose children attend the school, teachers and other support staff, who are still very traumatised.
One parent, who spoke anonymously, said she was concerned about the security at the school and the emotional stability of the children who witnessed the bloody attack.
“We understand that the security guard on duty that day is new to the school and was not aware of all the security protocols and would have let the man in to see the teacher, but what happens to the children now?
“They (pupils) will be scarred for life and relive this horrible sight in their little minds forever. They need real professional help to overcome this. What has our country become? People are filled with too much anger and rage. God help us.”
Speaking with the Guardian Media yesterday, Maharaj’s daughter Anushka said her mother’s attacker was her ex-boyfriend whom she ended a relationship with last year. However, she said the attack had nothing to do with their separation but an alleged breach of contract in the purchase of a parcel of land from her mother.
“He started building on the land without permission and put down some pieces of steel and he wanted payment for that, but there was an initial agreement to purchase the land and he breached it. She told him he couldn’t be paid for the steel and told him that they would talk about it some more after school because she was in her classroom. That’s when he took out the icepick and stabbed her several times,” Anushka told Guardian Media.
A close friend of Maharaj, who wished not to be identified, said Maharaj didn’t deserve being attacked.
“That lady is very hard working and respectable...she didn’t deserve this. It’s a very sad day.”
Education Minister Anthony Garcia yesterday wished for a speedy recovery to the teacher but also gave the assurance that a thorough investigation will be conducted to ensure the unfortunate incident is not repeated.
“Our teachers are responsible for moulding the future of Trinidad and Tobago. No teacher must feel any sense of danger while they carry out their duty in delivering education to our students, and no student should ever have to be a witness to such an attack,” Garcia said.
“The Ministry of Education will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure that teachers and students of all schools feel safe throughout the school day.”
Garcia, however, noted that the guard had been hired by the Catholic Education Board and not the ministry, but also indicated that preliminary investigation showed the guard did not follow the protocol for persons entering a school compound. He said the Director of School Supervision has ordered a full probe into the matter.
In a release, the ministry also noted that despite the attack, 105 of the school’s 191 pupils and 10 teachers who comprise the school population were present yesterday.
The ministry said the attack raised security issues at the school, as the assailant entered the compound under false pretences.
“Therefore as a part of the investigation into the incident the security protocol for entry and exit to the school compound will be assessed, and changes made where necessary,” it said.
The ministry confirmed that staff from the Student Support Services Division, including a team of guidance officers and social workers, went to the school yesterday and met with students who witnessed the incident “to offer intervention and counselling as needed. Services afforded under the Employee Assistance Programme will also form a part of the intervention to be given to the school.”
However, the ministry did not comment on the circumstances of the incident or the status of police investigations.
The Ministry of Education’s Health, Safety and Security Division, along with police officers from the Arouca CID, are continuing investigations.
T&T Unified Teachers Association second vice president Kyrla Robertson-Thomas meanwhile condemned the attack, pointing out that it is one of the many of society’s ills that had now spilt into schools that were once considered safe grounds.
She emphasised that safety and security protocols at all schools, especially primary schools, need to be reinforced and strengthened, including the placement of more than one security guards on the compound of all primary schools throughout T&T.