KINGSTON, Jamaica – Aretha Smith had not seen her children since 21 December.
She had got them ready, packed their clothes and took them from St Mary to Land Top, Port Morant, in St Thomas for them to spend Christmas with their grandmother, Angella Lynch.
Now, Smith will neither see nor hug them again. On Sunday night, two-year-old Niasha Cousins, five-year-old Thaila Cousins and three-year-old Jawara Cousins were burnt alive in a one-room board house in the eastern parish.
The children perished with their grandmother, who the police believe was shot by her attackers, who later set the house ablaze.
“People try fi help dem, but di fire did too bad. Even if di fire brigade di deh next door, dem couldn’t save dem,” one resident said.
Smith wept while residents of Land Top, braving the heat of the midday sun, watched as investigators combed through the burnt-out rubble looking for clues that could help the police crack the case.
“Mi head! Mi head a pound!” Smith wept.
Jonathan Morrison, the superintendent in charge of the St Thomas police, told The Gleaner Sunday that the police were probing the incident as a murder and would be relying on supporting evidence to make an arrest.
“There are leads, but it is going to rely heavily on persons being willing to come forward to give statements and also whatever forensic evidence we recover from the scene,” Morrison told The Gleaner.
Morrison said the St Thomas police had not yet established a clear motive for the murder, but said “it seems to be related to a long-standing dispute between Lynch and other persons”.
Police reports are that about 11pm Sunday, a person or persons unknown, saturated Lynch’s board house with a flammable liquid and then kicked open the door to her dwelling and opened fire at her. Subsequent to the shooting, the house was set on fire.
Lynch’s common-law husband, Albert Scott, escaped, but Lynch and the three helpless children were burnt alive.
A sombre cloud sat atop the rural community Sunday but residents remained mum for the most part. Some of those who spoke told The Gleaner that the children could be heard crying for help even as the house was transformed into a fiery furnace.
Smith was inconsolable as she wept for her children. Grabbing on to the blouse of Ivoline Campbell, a family friend, Smith was still in denial as to the fate of her mother and children.
“Mi want mi baby dem!” Smith moaned, her voice now barely audible due to hours of crying.
“Ivoline dem ova deh. Ivoline, carry mi guh a Niasha nuh, an Jawara and Thalia. Mi want mi baby dem,” the mourning mother insisted as she gazed at her mother’s burnt-out house.
One shopkeeper said that Thalia had purchased a single coil of mosquito destroyer from her just after dusk Sunday evening. It was the last time she saw her.
A few metres away, a resident reminisced on what was the last conversation he had had with the little girl he described as bright and lovely.
“She hold mi hand and den she seh ‘Lata’. A di last time dat mi si har, di last time mi hold har hand,” the male resident said.
Ann-Marie Hibbert, Lynch’s daughter, who is in an advanced state of pregnancy, could not contain her emotions. She told The Gleaner that her mother loved having her grandchildren around. Thalia and Jawara, she said, started school in St Thomas two weeks ago.
It is the second time in three years that residents of St Thomas were waking up to the horrific reality of children being slain in such a manner.
In February 2006, four children – nine-year-old Sean Chin Jr; Lloyd Marshall George McCool, three; Jihad George McCool, seven; Jesse O’Gilvie, nine, along with their mother, Patrice George-McCool, 28; and aunt, Terry-Ann Mohammed, 40, were murdered at Duhaney Park in the parish.
Jamaicans have been forced to cower in fear as the face of brazen criminality sweeps across the island, leaving no community unscathed.
More than 70 persons have been murdered in Jamaica since the start of the year. Saturday night, four persons were murdered in Hall’s Delight, east rural St Andrew. Three persons were also killed in Grants Pen, St Andrew, on Sunday.