Between 2010 and 2019, 8,383 people went missing. Out of that number, 408 people were still not found at the end of 2019, statistics from the T&T Police Service show. For the last year, scores of other people were reported missing, among them several young women, a few of whom have since been located and returned home. Others remain unaccounted for.
Sunday Guardian received a list with the names of 112 people who were missing from Missing Persons T&T group on Facebook up to September 2020. However, they indicated that “The actual number of unaccounted people according to our count is ten times this number because these are the posts we made in the last year only."
This could take the number of missing people to more than 1,000, not counting those who have disappeared in the last five months.
Hundreds of people have gone missing for decades, some for a few years, others for mere months or just days, leaving family and friends traumatised. Regardless of how long they have been gone, it is nerve-wracking for loved ones as the anguish and pain have become unbearable as time passes by and they are offered no hope.
Marc Prescott was six years when he vanished from outside the San Fernando Boys’ Roman Catholic Primary School at Harris Promenade on May 14, 2003.
Ten-year-old Vijay Persad was abducted in Moruga on June 21, 2004, and was never seen or heard from again.
Denise Barcant, 46, left her St Ann's home in her car and disappeared on October 24, 2008.
Kelly-Ann Seerattan, 25, from Princes Town, vanished without a trace on November 3, 2011, with all her personal effects left behind in her house.
There are people like Juliet Tam who disappeared in December 1985, some 35 years ago, to more recent cases like Shadiza Nagamootoo, of Las Lomas, who went missing just before Valentine’s Day.
These are just a few among the hundreds of people who have gone missing without a trace in T&T.
But, how can people go missing or disappear without leaving any clues on an island that is only 1,841 square miles? There are many theories–some might have been kidnapped, robbed or raped and then murdered, others might have been victims of human trafficking, yet some others just wanted to escape for various reasons.
Unfortunately, it is not a recent phenomenon and affects all races, ages and gender. However, more women than men go missing.
News reports of Ashanti Riley, 15, of San Juan, who went missing on November 29, 2020 and was found murdered five days later in Santa Cruz on December 4, and Andrea Bharatt, 23, from Arima, who was kidnapped on January 29 and missing until her badly decomposed body was found down a precipice in the Heights of Aripo on February 4, triggered loved ones of people who have gone missing to plead with the authorities to not give up on finding them.
Coming on the heels of the killing of Ashanti two months later, Bharatt's murder struck a chord in the nation's collective psyche and has affected citizens to their core. Her death has triggered an emotional response in people running the gamut from fear, grief, hopelessness to outrage on a visceral level.
Ashanti and Bharatt's murder sparked a national outcry; large crowds of people gathered across the country and also Trinidadians in the diaspora to hold vigils in a show of solidarity and to demand justice.
It has set off a torrent of emotions and feelings family and friends of the missing continue to go through up to today, bringing to the fore the trauma they are forced to relive as some remain cold cases even after decades in some instances.
There is no closure for many of these people; with no bodies, they don't know if their loved ones are dead or alive, but they remain ever hopeful that they will return to them.
Shrines for their missing relatives go up in their rooms, while some family members cannot even look at photographs of their loved ones, as to do so causes more anguish. Others suffer from ill-health and eventually succumb due to the psychological and physiological pain and torment.
Stephanie Tam, the sister of Juliet Tam, then 24, who left her Arima home and vanished without a trace on December 5, 1985, took to social media on Monday and shared that Juliet would have celebrated her 60th birthday on February 15.
"She was kidnapped on Thursday 5th December 1985 just after 7 pm on her way to keep-fit classes within five blocks away of her home in Arima. We have heard nothing since. The last two weeks have brought back so many memories and emotions that I have managed to control over the years...feelings of anger and fear and resignation. I can only say...But GOD. We live not as those without hope,” the younger Tam wrote.
Families are seeking both closure and justice.
Families speak out
Several people who have missing family members spoke to the Sunday Guardian about their traumatic experiences and the new feelings of pain that have been evoked since the country’s uproar over Bharatt's case.
Sharday Emmanuel, daughter of John Emmanuel, who lives in Mamoral, went missing in June 2018 and has never been seen since.
Two weeks ago, he went to Bharatt’s funeral which brought back painful memories of his own situation. Bharatt, who was young, educated and full of life, reminded him of his own daughter. Sharday, a nursing assistant, was 20 when she went missing, just three years younger than Bharatt.
“I was there at Andrea’s funeral. I stood up outside of the gate of the church and when the ceremony was over and I saw the hearse coming out that gate, then I started to cry. People started to console me. I told myself once they find her body, we will have that day too.”
His daughter was supposed to have gone shopping on that fateful day in 2018. Based on information he received after, she was having problem in a relationship. Emmanuel now suspects that she was going to break off the relationship.
A year after the incident, there were news reports of burnt skeletal remains in the Santa Flora area which he believes is the body of his daughter. He said that they are waiting on the DNA testing which will take them to the next stage of the investigation.
He remains hopeful that once they get the DNA evidence, there will be justice.
“The disappearance happened just before Gary Griffith took office and the police then was not as coordinated as they are now,” he said.
The situation has changed his life permanently. Emmanuel said he became more withdrawn and speaks less to family and friends. He has also become more paranoid and does not trust people as he used to.
For two years after the incident, his daughter’s room stayed almost the same. However, last year he did some renovations to this house and some things had to be moved out of her room.
“I kept a candle next to a picture of her. Her memory will always remain,” he said.
Anton John, who is now 35 years old and lives in San Juan, remembers the incident as if it were yesterday.
As he recalls the story...It was September 2, 2008.
His sister, Abigail Joseph, 29 at that time, was supposed to have picked up her child after school but never showed up.
Around 5.30 that evening they received a frantic call saying that Joseph did not pick up her son at school. John then called her close friend Nathalie to find out if she was with her.
They then went to the Belmont Police Station to report the situation and were told that 24 hours would have to pass before she is considered missing.
In an interview with the Sunday Guardian, he blames the police service for not moving faster on the tip-offs that they received at that time. He said based on what he has seen since the police service has improved in how it deals with these cases and now operate more efficiently.
He believes she was the victim of human trafficking. He described his sister as being conservative, quiet, and family-oriented and believes that human traffickers are looking for these types of females to pounce upon and take advantage of.
That incident changed his life forever. John, who has three sisters, said he has become less trusting of other people and he has taken more interest in the safety of females.
13 years later, he still holds hope that he will see his missing sister again.
He said seeing Bharatt’s case all over the news and social media has brought back a lot of painful memories of his older sister.
He called on citizens to look out for each other and to act responsibly.
Caren Robinson, who now resides in New York, is still in deep pain after the disappearance of her sister Coreen Singh who was 25 years at that time.
On February 3, 2018, Singh, who is from Carapo, left her home to go out and was never seen again.
A few days after, her car was found burnt in Caroni but her body was never found.
She acknowledged the assistance her family got from crime show host Ian Alleyne, who publicised the case.
However, she was critical of the T&T Police Service since she felt they could have done more to find her sister.
Three years later, she still hopes that her sister is alive and said that Bharatt's case brought back a lot of pain for her.
As soon as T&T’s borders are open she intends to visit T&T for the first time in 15 years and she will continue looking for her sister, whether she is dead or alive.
Robinson said her life has been changed forever.
“My life could never be the same, I lost my baby sister, the sweetest most giving, caring, selfless person I know. We were really close. I miss her so much and in the process, I lost my mom and dad. I lost all three of them and it was all because of these monsters that are walking the streets, those devils. I don't know how they sleep at night or move on with their life after they did what they did. God is in control and no matter how long it takes we will get justice for my baby sister. I leave it all in his hands.”
Mas designer and San Fernando businessman Kirby Mohammed went missing six years ago on February 28, 2015.
His mother, Linda Mohammed, told the Sunday Guardian that she wants clues as to what happened to her son.
She believes he was kidnapped and robbed. However, she is not sure that he is still alive as his body has never been found.
She wants police to use more forensic scientific approaches in crime fighting.
Mohammed said she knows she was not the only one as many others have lost loved ones and are in the same situation as her.
She called on members of the public who might have information about his whereabouts to contact the nearest police station or Crime Stoppers at 800-TIPS or 482-GARY.
January 20, 2021, made it 12 years since Denesh Soodeen went missing.
January 22, 2021, would also have been his 40th birthday, which his family should have been celebrating with him. Instead, it just marks another year of pain, sadness, and unanswered questions.
Sherena Fairley said her older brother has been missing for years and they have no answers, no clues, no idea as to what took place or what is taking place with him and his case.
Missing Persons in T&T Facebook page quoted her as saying: “I know it’s a long time but it’s worth a try. Hopefully, with the emotional state, Trinidad is in at this moment someone, anyone who may have info might speak up! We just need some truthful closure! Please?”
Soodeen lived with his family in Chatham, in the deep South, and worked at Petrotrin. He also had a business selling jewelry and was into cars when he was not at his daytime job.
He left home to go to Gulf City and he was never seen again.
The police found his car parked in Gulf City but there were no traces of him.
Despite different theories, Fairley said that there have never been any strong leads as to what happened to her brother.
She said the incident changed her life forever as she is no longer trusting. It also opened her eyes to the dangerous world that exists where people are not safe and they could simply disappear one day.
She also said that for many years his room in the family’s house in Chatham was left untouched. Since then they have packed away his clothes and personal belongings but it remains unoccupied.
“Of course, we always would want closure. As long as we don’t find actual remains of him, there is hope that we might see him alive and well and it would be one hell of a story to hear. But as the years go by the hope kinds of dims.”
Emily Basdeo-Alijohn’s 56-year-old uncle, Boodram Basdeo went to change a cheque that he received during the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020 and was never seen again.
Up to the time he was last seen, he lived in Union Village, Mayaro.
She said he was an employee on a citrus estate in Union Village and his boss dropped him off to change the cheque. According to her, that was the last time he was ever seen.
Months later, she is still in pain and is hopeful that her uncle will turn up alive.
“His bossman took him to change a COVID-19 grant and he never came back home...It was a friend who informed us that he was missing. My uncle wasn’t sick or anything like that.”
She said that the police do not have evidence to arrest anyone or any leads.
Basdeo-Alijohn still grieves for him.
“He was my father’s brother and he was my only family on my father's side to live here in Union Village. Every now and again people claim to see him and we act on the information but always there’s no success in finding him. We’re just like headless chickens.”
A few months after he went missing, she gave birth to a baby girl and is saddened that he is not around to see her newborn baby.
“Sometimes, my mind runs on him and I just start to cry. My uncle was looking forward to my baby being born. Sadly, he’s not here with us.”
In October 2020, the Sunday Guardian reported the heartbreaking story of Shanice Cooper who went missing at seven months pregnant.
The 30-year-old port worker was last seen leaving her mother's Belmont home on August 28, 2019.
After going months without hearing from investigators, Shanice's aunt, Pauline, was contacted by officers of the T&T Police Service shortly after the story was published.
Upon the investigator's request, Pauline and Shanice's mother had a two-hour-long meeting about the case.
According to Pauline, the meeting gave them a much-needed sense of hope and encouragement.
Three weeks later though, critical information shared in the meeting was recanted.
The impact of all this, she said, only served to reopen wounds in Shanice's mother.
"To come three weeks to a month later and take back all of that, it threw her right back again. These people don't understand what they are doing to families," Cooper said.
"The information was basically rooted away from us, so it's like, this is what I told you'll, this is not what it is, very conflicting," Shanice's aunt lamented.
The investigating officer was subsequently moved from the case.
Now, just as she felt in the days, weeks, and months after Shanice's disappearance, Pauline is disappointed by the police's response.
"I prefer they continue saying there's no lead, rather than to build your hope and then smash it because that is what they did," she said.
Anyone with information can contact/call 999 or any police station or report anonymously at 800-TIPS or 555 or text 482-GARY or use the TTPS mobile app.
Why girls leave home and are found later?
Girls and young women who have disappeared from home but are not kidnapped have been accused of wasting police time.
But, civilian manager, Gender-based Violence Unit, T&T Police Service Shireen Pollard does not believe that when girls run away from their homes, they should be blamed.
"When they go missing it is with men that are much older than them. Are these girls really going consensually? Or are they victims? These girls are being sexually groomed by older men. These teenage girls are not going missing with boys their ages as they don’t have a car, they don’t have money. It is older men preying on younger girls,” Pollard said.
She said there are also factors in the homes that are driving young girls to leave, even if it is temporarily.
"You may have had parents who are suffering from substance abuse. There may be domestic violence in the home. I also think that there is a lack of knowledge and capability to deal with teenage daughters. While there are parents who go to parenting workshops, there are other parents who really don’t know what to do with their teenagers when they act out. There must be more training for parents to understand how to treat their children at their developmental stage. If no one taught the parents to do that then there will be conflict in the home."
These situations then lead an older man to approach a teenage girl and lure her away from home, she added.
"We also need to educate young girls on what is sexual grooming for them to understand what they’re getting into. If a child goes missing or the child goes with someone the parents doesn’t know, they should report it as soon as they could."