In less than two minutes, Ingrid Plaza lost all the men in her life: her neighbour, her ex-lover (and father of her child), her brother and the most heart-rending of them all: her 21-year-old son, Kevin.
Plaza had just closed her faded mustard-coloured parlour at the front of her house on Olive Trace, a short dead-end street which locals called Boy’s Lane in D’Abadie.
She had made only a few footsteps towards her house when the gunshots exploded. Her mother’s intuition kicked in.
“I just knew it was him,” Plaza said. “I held my belly and hung over…I just knew it was him.”
She ran towards the gunfire. Moments after the shooting, neighbours had already rushed outside. Plaza pushed past them, madly searching for Kevin.
On the cul-de-sac in front of her house, she saw her brother, Roger. He had been shot in the head, but was only “half dead.”
“Good, yuh still breathing,” she recalled thinking.
A witness to the shooting heard one of the four gunmen telling Roger, “We didn’t really come for you, but since you here…” He fired a single shot to Roger’s head.
Frank Joseph, Plaza’s former lover and Kevin’s father, died instantly. He was trying to wrestle the gun away from one of the men pursuing his son when a second gunman ran up to him and pumped several bullets in his body.
Plaza continued to look for Kevin. Two houses down the street, Kevin’s body lay motionless. The gunmen had aimed for his head after shooting him three times in the left leg.
Kevin had tried to escape, but his wounds caused his legs to give out. He stumbled and fell. A gunman stood over him and shot him in the head, according to a witness who saw the entire attack.
Unable to scream, Plaza, 46, collapsed on Kevin’s body. Everything seemed to be a blur. “The only time I was conscious…of what was going on is when I get up and somebody had put me to sit down in a chair,” she said.
Before the shooting occurred, Kevin was about to drive some newlywed neighbours who lived next door to take some wedding pictures. He was taking along his daughter, Kutisha, for the ride.
After the shooting, Plaza found her granddaughter crying in the back seat of the white Nissan Almera that Kevin was about to drive. Kutisha had witnessed the killings and now seemed haunted. Her screams pierced the street.
She was only four-years-old.
Live Fast and Die Young
The killings of 21-year-old Kevin, his 46-year-old father, Frank, his uncle (who was in his thirties) and their neighbour, Ricardo Singh (who was in his twenties) provide an inside look into how men who chose gangs and drug culture to make fast money are often the casualties of their own path.
It also underscores how hundreds of young men are being killed each year in gang wars over turf, drugs, and revenge.
Of the 7,390 murders recorded in T&T since the year 2000, some 20 per cent–1,417—of the victims were males between the ages of 16 to 30-years-old. (See accompanying graphic).
The cycle of violence seems never-ending. The slaying of men in one neighbourhood almost always results in the wiping out of the killers.
The four men who snuffed out the lives of her loved ones—Kevin, Frank, Roger, and Ricardo—have all been “dealt with,” allegedly killed by one of her son’s associates who is now incarcerated, Plaza said.
But after they were killed, their avenger gunned down the associate’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Monique Griffith on July 15, 2019, mere meters from Plaza’s mini-mart.
Griffith had spent the night at Plaza’s house, where she had dinner. She left the house at about 1 am when she was killed.
“Is a war going on,” Plaza said, in a defeated tone. “She was a really nice girl, she just got caught up with the wrong person.”
If it’s a war, the victors are the ones who draw last blood. Their victory, though, is short-lived because they become inevitable casualties.
Many of these killings are deemed gang-related and never investigated. Police have written off the killings of Plaza’s son, brother, ex-lover, and neighbour.
A senior officer with the TTPS told Guardian Media that no one was arrested for the Olive Trace killings because the men who were slain were known to be involved in crime. “No extra attention was given to the matter,” he said.
The tit-for-tat in the Olive Trace killings shows how violence breeds violence and have devastating consequences in many communities.
Poverty levels intensify because the men who used their illegal activities to provide for their households are no longer present, said Daurius Figueira, a criminologist.
“Heightened poverty encourages at-risk behaviours and it entrenches the gang lifestyle,” he said.
All About Business: Crime and The Family
Plaza said Kevin got involved in “underground business” at the age of 16, selling marijuana at Five Rivers Government Secondary School, where he was a student. She often collected him from the police station where the school would take him after he was busted with drugs.
There was no point in asking Kevin’s father to start “pulling up” his son, Plaza said nonchalantly. “He was in it too, so he didn’t really care.”
Joseph, a customs officer turned rogue, was known to be involved in drugs and was even held for murder at one time. He was released after proving he was abroad at the time of the killing, she said. Plaza said Kevin followed in the footsteps of his father, uncles and other family members who were involved in drugs.
“They all sold marijuana. And when he got to know his father and he encouraged him in that life, there was no turning back,” she said.
Plaza insisted that Kevin wasn’t involved in gangs. She described him as a “marijuana hustler” who made enough money to hire “employees,” or foot soldiers who received a cut of his profits.
She called him a year-round “Santa Claus” in his community.
“When he made his money he used to play Play Whe hard. He used to play one mark for $1,000 up to $2,000 because it’s drug money,” she said. “So when he wins a mark or sell his drugs, he would give everybody money. He would buy sneakers for this one and that one…anything they wanted, he would give them.”
She feared that Kevin’s “hustle” would eventually claim his life. She often implored him to seek a different livelihood. Kevin would say, “Everybody doing it, the politicians, the police and army and the business people, so I not doing nothing different.”
When Home Is Your Prison
Plaza is a virtual prisoner in her home. Since the killings, she has never left her house. When a visitor left her premises recently, Plaza told her: “I am not going out there, eh,” she said, pointing to the top of the trace.
The father of her seven-year-old daughter, who works in the energy sector, takes care of all her needs. He understands her fear of leaving the house. “He’s godsent,” she said. “Right now he takes care of our daughter, Kevin’s daughter and me. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Plaza grieves for Kevin every day. One day, she made a stuffed toy, using one of his favourite Polo T-shirts. She leaves it sitting on her bed and sleeps with it. She never takes it out of the large zip lock bag, to avoid soiling it.
She said she lives in constant fear that she could suffer the same fate that her son, his father, her brother and her neighbour met on that Saturday afternoon. Not too long ago, she found out that associates of her son’s murderers were saying that she “called the shot” on them.
“I didn’t do it,” she said.
She believes that the revenge killings would never end. In addition to the 2016 killings, Plaza has suffered many violent deaths in her family, including a few cousins who have been killed by gun violence and two female relatives who’ve had their throats slit.
She believes an ill omen has been cast on her family. “The men does get shoot and the women does get their throats slit,” a teary-eyed Plaza said.
She worries for one of her two remaining brothers who has been receiving death threats recently from men complaining about him “upsetting their business.” Pondering another death, Plaza said, “It is already too much.”
Sometimes, Plaza seems resigned to accepting that she could fall to the threats against her. She knows that if anyone wanted her dead, they would find her.