The Pinto Road community is fast becoming one of the hottest spots in the country for killings.
There is an emerging trend of young men frequently being gunned down in the area, and the rapid sound of gunshots echoing through the community has become commonplace as the stakes are high for gang members grappling for turf–either for drugs or guns–in the eastern borough.
According to senior police in the area, the killings are being fuelled by a "deadly" combination of drugs, firearms, revenge, retaliation, and rivalry.
Residents were gripped by fear after the brazen murders of two men in the Arima community last week. When Akil Douglas, 22 and 19-year-old Rico Kallicharan were gunned down days apart last week it rocked the community creating an uneasy feeling among residents. They are now bracing for reprisals.
Both men were approached by gunmen who opened fire on them in separate incidents. On June 12, Douglas was liming on the Train Line when two gunmen opened fire on him. Douglas attempted to run but picked up several bullets and later died.
Kallicharan of Righteous Lane Extension was standing on the roadway in front of his home three days later when two gunmen walked up to him and shot him. The men ran through a track that connects Righteous Lane Extention and Mottley Trace along Pinto Road and escaped.
In January, Kaylon Mayers, 24, of Benny Trace, Valencia, was conducting mechanical repairs on a Toyota Corolla vehicle which was parked in the driveway of his friend's home at Punnette Avenue, in Pinto, when two masked gunmen came from behind a house and shot him multiple times.
The killings have brought the murder count to three in the last six months, compared to the four killings for the whole of last year.
Anton "Buju" Joseph and Gabriel "Bottoms" Mitchell were victims in last year's killing spree when they were gunned down in separate incidents on the Train Line and Righteous Lane respectively.
Last July, it was reported by Guardian Media that eight people were killed in a matter of hours in what police described as a revenge killing in the aftermath of the murder of Kareem Walters also known as "Pinto Boss" and "Crime Boss" of Pinto Road. Walters was shot multiple times about his body which was found down a precipice just off the Toco Main Road.
In 2020, there were seven fatal shootings in the area.
A former People's National Movement (PNM) councillor who lived in the area has expressed alarm over the explosion of violence.
People in the area have grown accustomed to gunmen striking bold and leaving bodies on the roadways, in drains or even on someone's doorstep, as Pinto now has the unenviable record as Arima's fastest-growing killing zone.
Streets such as Righteous Lane, Punnett Avenue and the Train Line have become crime hot spots for gang members and criminal activity.
Pinto Road snakes through the environs of Arima for approximately two kilometres and is situated a stone's throw away from the community of Maturita, itself a well-known zone for killings and shootings.
Police challenged by the level of violence in the Pinto community have vowed not to give up and put new measures in place to fight the scourge. The police have stepped up patrols in the area and can be found stopping and searching vehicles at any given time while occupants get rubbed down.
Meanwhile, the Arima Municipal Police (AMP) will now join forces to play an integral role in the fight against the criminal elements.
Police officers on patrol stop and search the occupants of a Nissan AD wagon along Pinto Road, Arima.
Arima the most dangerous place in Trinidad
In May of this year, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) data rated Arima as the most dangerous place in Trinidad with the most murders, sexual offences, robberies and break-ins for the period November 2021 to April 2022. Based on statistics observed from the data of the TTPS Arima has accounted for the highest percentage of murders in the country for the last five years. The area has also recorded the highest number of serious reported crimes in Trinidad and Tobago over that duration. Since the beginning of this year, Arima has seen a spike in killings and shootings especially in the Pinto Road area according to the statistics.
Statistics by the TTPS showed that approximately one in every 11 murders, sexual offences, break-ins or robberies committed since November 2021 took place in Arima–with this area accounting for 233 cases of the 2503 cases reported nationwide.
So prevalent were crimes in this area that the Northern Division was split into two geographical divisions so police could better tackle the scourge. In May this year, the division was divided into the Northern Division Central and Northern Division North.
Residents falling victim to killings outside their district
Apart from the murders in the Pinto area, the former councillor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that residents have also fallen victim to the killings outside of their district.
She drew reference to scrap iron dealer Andrew "Mongo" Corbin of Pinto Road, who was murdered at the Heights of Guanapo on June 18.
Corbin went to drop medicine for his ailing two-month-old granddaughter who was staying at a relative's home when two gunmen wearing ski masks ordered him to put down the baby and then shot him.
A relative had claimed in a newspaper report some time ago that Corbin had been threatened by criminals in the Heights of Guanapo to stay away from the area.
Dane St Rose, 23, was another Pinto Road resident whose life was snuffed out on June 13 by police outside the University of T&T campus on Wrightson Road.
St Rose was accused of robbing and kidnapping a 39-year-old PH taxi driver near Skallywag Bay in Chaguaramas.
When police intercepted the vehicle on Wrightson Road, officers said St Rose crashed the vehicle and then shot at them as he tried to escape. He died in the crossfire.
Even some people who have visited the area have fallen prey to gunmen.
Princes Town mechanic Kishoan Ramlogan and a colleague were ambushed when they went to buy a car on Righteous Lane that was advertised on Facebook in October 2021. When Ramlogan and his colleague got to the area a group of armed men shot them multiple times.
Ramlogan was robbed of $15,000 while he took his last breath, while his colleague had to be treated for a bullet wound to one of his elbows.
A police officer searches a car along Pinto Road, Arima.
Sen Supt: Residents harbouring criminals and concealing guns
Head of the Northern Police Division, Senior Superintendent Christopher Paponette confirmed that "gang violence has remained one of the major issues" in Pinto.
He said during the lockdown the TTPS noticed a drop in gang violence and homicides. But now, as the country is returning to normalcy, Paponette said, some of the gang members have renewed their rivalry.
"It is a combination of issues...it's a combination of revenge, retaliations, drugs, firearms and rivalry," Paponette said.
The drugs provide a financial base for the gangs and the illegal firearms protect the drugs, turf and gang members from their rivals.
"The firearms are used as tools for retaliation," he added.
He described the crime as a reoccurring decimal.
In Northern Division, Paponette said, over 50 illegal firearms were recovered for the year.
"And some of it would be in the general Pinto area."
Paponette said several criminals in this area carry high-powered guns.
"So high-powered weapons in the hands of reckless persons is dangerous because their intent is to kill, wound or cause grievous bodily harm to a person/s. But they are not concerned with the collateral damage."
In Pinto, he said, there are a lot of escape routes which the killers use to their advantage, noting that while officers are often on foot and vehicle patrols they cannot be widespread. Some individuals harbour criminals and conceal their firearms as well.
"This creates a challenge for the police. But we are not giving up. While the homicides have been taking place we have put things in place to minimise or reduce the opportunity for these things."
A bullet hole left behind by the killers.
A killing field
Even though there was a high police presence when Guardian Media visited Pinto Road last Wednesday, residents in the community feared the area had become what they described as "a killing field" by gang members creating mayhem and havoc.
Worry and stress etched on her face, the former councillor admitted that the spate of murders had been too much for the community to stomach.
"It has been happening far too often and is too many people that I know getting killed. Almost every day you would hear rapid gunfire. It's an uneasy feeling because you don't know if you, a family member or neighbour could innocently pick up a stray bullet," she said.
The shootings were evident as walls, steel gates and homes bore bullet holes.
She said while crime has been affecting the entire country, the gangs and ongoing illegal activities have been giving the community a bad name.
"Is who ain't dead in Pinto getting shoot. And who ain't getting shoot hiding from the police. And, who ain't hiding from the police have guns. It's sad knowing what this place was, to what it has become."
One Trainline resident, who preferred not to be named because of the sensitive subject, said they live by one rule "you see, hear and speak no evil in Pinto otherwise you will be next."
Another resident said talk has been circulating that Kallicharan and Douglas were two of six people marked for death in Pinto.
"So we expect more reprisal killings," she said. "Even if I know what these two fellas get killed for I not talking. "
Sen Supt Paponette told Guardian Media that he was unaware of any existing hit list for the area.
Bullet holes left behind remind relatives, residents, and passers-by of a young man killed one week ago at Righteous Lane, Pinto Road, Arima.
Arima Mayor: Municipal police will play integral role in crime fight
Meanwhile, Arima Mayor Cagney Casimire said the borough was aware of the prevalence of gang activity in Arima.
Having held recent discussions with acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob about the escalating crime in the borough, Casimire said the Municipal Police will now play an integral role in the fight against the criminal elements.
Last month, Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi revealed that 700 municipal police officers will be part of the crime-solving process.
Al-Rawi also wants to see the number of officers increasing to 1,500 by September.
In a telephone interview with Guardian Media, Casimire said the first step was for the borough to beef up its resources from 83 to 100 municipal police officers. They have erected an AMP "sub-post" on O'Meara Road which will respond to emergency calls around the clock.