Ben McLaughlin is in a living hell.
For the last year, the house he shares with his wife, his son, his son’s wife, and his five grandchildren has been pelted with rocks, vandalised and, in the latest incident Wednesday night, someone tried to set it on fire.
Luckily, the 30-year veteran firefighter had a garden hose handy and managed to put the small blaze on the side of his Kipling Street home out before flames got into the roof.
But Mr. McLaughlin, who has lived in that house since 1981, isn’t feeling all that lucky these days.
‘I’m to the point now where ‘what is the use of you living in a place where you’ve got to live like a prisoner,” he said Thursday morning after surveying the damage from flames on the side of his house.
Since July 2007, the McLaughlin family’s home has been assailed by unknown attackers throwing rocks. Sometimes it happens each night of the week, other times there’s a two or three week break in between attacks. The rock-hurlers have hit neighbours’ homes on Kipling Street as well, leaving visible evidence of large rocks on the roof, broken windows and vandalised vehicles.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has received 34 calls from the Kipling Street area since October. They’ve questioned residents, taken statements, put out public alerts and requests for assistance, in addition to performing routine patrols, and more thorough searches using street officers, K-9 patrols and even a helicopter.
Police officers who’ve been on the street at night providing security and searching the area have also been pelted and injured by large rocks.
RCIPS Inspector Ian Yearwood said it seems more than one assailant has been involved in certain instances, while other attacks appeared to have been perpetrated by just one person.
‘For the residents of Kipling Street and the surrounding area, we share your frustration,’ Mr. Yearwood said. ‘For the suspects, it’s not a matter of if you are caught; it’s when you are caught.’
Local residents hope those arrests come sooner rather than later.
An elderly man who lives just down the street and is friends with the McLaughlin’s has been hospitalised twice in the past year, both times after a rock struck his head.
Ben McLaughlin, whose family members have also been hurt by rocks, has boarded up most of the windows of his house. He has to run the air conditioning all the time because he’s afraid to leave the windows and doors open.
After the sun goes down, everyone in the family goes inside because they’re afraid someone will start hurling rocks again. The grandkids, ages 14, 12, 10, eight and seven, are often too scared to sleep at night and then are too tired to go to school the next day.
‘Sometimes you just feel like running and screaming. My grandchildren live in fear, five of them I’ve got inside here,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘I’ve had it up to here.’
Residents in the neighbourhood believe the dispute centres around the McLaughlin family, even though some nearby homes have been assailed as well. But Mr. McLaughlin said he doesn’t understand why his home is continually being attacked. He said nothing like this happened in his neighbourhood before July ’07.
‘What is the reason behind this?’ he said. ‘If I did something to offend them, let’s solve it. But don’t hide behind a rock.’
Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden visited the scene of the crime Thursday morning to hear Mr. McLaughlin’s concerns. He said there were a few clues in the neighbourhood, but nothing was certain about the identity of the rock-hurlers.
‘It appears to be focused primarily around Mr. Ben’s (McLaughlin) son,’ Mr. Bodden said. ‘He has been employed previously with the prison. He’s also been an immigration officer for the past two years, and was just recently released. In those jobs it’s quite easy to cross people who are not necessarily going to be great fans of yours.’
But Mr. Bodden said his main concern as an elected representative was the constant danger residents of Kipling Street face.
‘Look behind me, you’ll see the house under barricade. No one on earth would want to live like that. I call these people, whoever’s doing this, the biggest cowards in Cayman.’
Mr. Bodden pleaded with ‘whoever was sheltering’ the rock throwers to come forward and help the police solve the crimes.
Anyone with information about the rock throwing or vandalism in the Kipling Street area is asked to call the Bodden Town Police Station at 947-2220 or Cayman Crime Stoppers at 800-8477 (TIPS).