A decision by a single mother to place her son, heading down the wrong path, in a state child facility in hope that he would be rehabilitated and returned an improved child, instead resulted in his fatal demise.
On March 28, Simeon Daniel, 15, was shot dead along with Antonio Francois, 16. Both boys were among five who escaped a Children’s Authority Child Support Centre just two days before their murders.
It’s a difficult reality for Natalie Braithwaite to face, especially when Daniel would have celebrated his 16th birthday on May 16.
In a telephone conversation with Guardian Media she shared fond memories of Daniel.
“He always liked animals and he liked to plant. He said he wanted to be a farmer. So he used to plant a whole lot of stuff. Sometimes you would get peas, pimento, and corn. He was very ambitious and he was very intelligent. He would sit and do Math, without even working and just put answers from the top of his head and it would be correct,” she recalled.
Smoking cigarettes, marijuana and passing home curfew time were among the reasons Braithwaite decided to entrust her son’s life to the state.
She says, she was trying to avoid Daniel from becoming another statistic, but he became one nonetheless.
To this day she is still displeased with the Authority’s director, Nichola Harvey-Mitchell’s “security lapse” justification, particularly because she admitted the Authority knew about the boys’ escape plan beforehand.
“If it is that you all saw that they tried to escape at one point in time and they try to probably use the same avenue to escape...if you could not beef up the security, because security is a human, there are times they would be tired...sleepy, they might nod off and anything could happen within a short space of time, so you all were supposed to ensure that the building itself was secure,” Braithwaite argued.
At a media conference on March 29, held one day after the boys’ murder, Harvey-Mitchell said, “Before Saturday, we were aware that the boys were planning on leaving the Child Support Centre for several reasons, and we discovered that while they were on online school. They were communicating with persons outside of the Authority, making plans to abscond accordingly.”
At that same conference, Harvey-Mitchell also communicated the boys may have run away, becoming upset after their devices were taken away, but when a social media post appeared on the Instagram feed of alleged abuse and ill-treatment at the home, one politician began his own investigations into the matter.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Senator David Nakhid claimed he had information from reliable sources within the facility that the boys ran away to avoid becoming sex-slaves.
“Originally, they were being pimped out. The boys, based on what I have heard, these two boys were being pimped out and they were beaten because they did not want to go, to deal with somebody procuring them for the sexual pleasure of whoever,” Nakhid claimed.
He claimed he even had names of the culprits at the home.
“I was even given names. But whether or not that can be proven now that the two boys have been coincidently killed. I know who those names are. With the information I have and I am not afraid to say it. This would have been big. But who can say 100 per cent now that these two boys were pimped out since they have been killed?”
Nakhid, who first publicly spoke about the information he obtained at a UNC virtual report on April 12, also slammed Harvey-Mitchell’s “security lapse” excuse.
While Braithwaite said her son never disclosed he was abused, she said he did confirm to her the other boys were.
To this, she said: “If this is true they need to be humane and do what is right because at the end of the day these are humans and that is people’s children and being there they can come out even worse than they went in because they can come out even more angry and more bitter because of how they were treated.”
It’s a familiar story though, for retired Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson who has often witnessed children from state homes graduate to the ‘big’ prisons. Responding to Guardian Media’s question on whether these homes could do more damage than good, Wilson said:
“Based on the stories they tell, sometimes we feel, some of these homes…these institutions, might not be as equipped as they should be in terms of all the psychological and social issues to deal with that particular child. I don’t think enough emphasis is being placed on what happens to them.”
He said it was important that research is done on these homes.
“It is critical, because you’re looking at homes and whether homes are equipped. So you have to do some research and get some stats in terms of if persons would have gone to these homes, how many of those persons coming from the home in this period,” he asked
It was what attorney-at-law, Brian Baig encountered when he represented a boy who escaped from the St Michael’s School for Boys to get something to eat.
“I got to understand the young boy escaped the home by scaling a fence, he and another boy. When I asked, well why did you do that? They say ‘well boss man I went to get food.’ I asked what you mean, you went to get food? They said well they had no food to get, they were hungry. And they escaped the home to go to the parlour to buy a pack of bread and some hotdogs and it led to them also committing a criminal act, that’s why I was retained to represent them.
But had they not gone to get food, maybe they would not have committed that criminal act,” said Baig.
He said these institutions must understand that they are in the care of people and they have a duty of care.
Weighing in on the escape and murders of Daniel and Francois, Baig said relatives might be able to seek legal redress.
“There may be a breach of a duty of care. That is the main thing we have to look at. These persons are in charge of taking care of these children. They’re not being housed there just to say when your court date is being called, well you go to court or they put you there for a two months or a three months to rehabilitate. It is astonishing to hear, even with this matter, if you are aware that there was a plot to escape, why nothing was done to stop it? And then look at what has happened, it has led to the demise of two young men.”
But the experiences resonate from one home to another. Like at the St Jude’s Home for Girls where former resident Latisha Millington described what allegedly happened to her at the hands of caretakers.
From St Dominic’s Home, to St Jude’s to the Youth Training Rehabilitation Centre (YTRC), state homes were the only abodes Millington knew since the age of two, but she claims it was no home-sweet-home.
“When visitors come they would put up a front. They would make visitors feel like St Jude’s is the best place and they real care for the children and stuff, but it’s not like that. You have to be there to know what going on,” she claimed.
She claimed, caretakers often instigated fights among the girls.
“They used to find ways of doing it. It have four houses on the compound, so it have girls they would be good with. They will make a set of girls gang up on yuh. So if they don’t like me because I being rude to them, they will try to inveigle other girls to gang up on me to beat me up.”
She claimed the beatings were themed.
“They used to call it a house beating or a compound beating. A compound beating is when everybody on the compound beat yuh. Or the house beating is the girls from the house that yuh in will beat yuh up.”
She claimed she also endured verbal abuse.
“They used to say how I would amount to nothing. How I would never be anything in life. I will go outside there and be rude and get pregnant. I go end up in jail.”
She ran away, but only to be returned.
“I get ‘ketch’ not too long after, but yuh know, yuh fed up ah being there because we want to be heard and nobody not paying us no mind.”
Millington said for too long no one took a closer look at what was going on behind the closed doors of these homes.
“It had riots at St Jude’s and it make news, but they never pay it no mind. The boy that died at St Michael’s, they did not pay that no mind. They just bottle it up and like yuh know continue about the place like all right is nothing. And why they wait so long? Like years later two boys come and die. They wait for them to talk about it before they could pay it any mind.”
Guardian Media reached out to the Children’s Authority, on April 16 via email and WhatsApp, requesting an in-person or zoom interview with its director Nichola Harvey-Mitchell to address several issues including the security situation at the home and a follow-up on the claims of abuse. After nearly a week of unanswered communication, an email response came on April 19 asking that we send the questions we would like to ask Harvey-Mitchell.
The questions were sent on that date. And on April 20 at 4.55 pm, a response from the authority was sent stating the questions would be answered on April 23.
To date we are still waiting on answers to those questions.