Grief in Cotton Tree

COTTON TREE, Trelawny — Traumatised by the rape and murder of 15-year-old Jamilia Cole, some of her classmates at Troy High School in Trelawny have already reached out for help, but Guidance Counsellor Melody Smith is dreading the flood of emotions that will be released when school resumes next month.

Teachers, too, have been left shocked and horrified at the Sunday morning home invasion that also left Jamilia’s mother and her 17-year-old cousin hospitalised.

“Her classmates are actually struggling right now because they loved her dearly. Quite a few of them would have reached out to me [on Monday] already, seeking for support and we would have reached out to them from the guidance department as well, offering support,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer.

Jamilia would have been a 10th grader in September. The guidance counsellor remembered her as a quiet and disciplined student who did well academically and followed the school rules.

“Teachers are also struggling, teachers are grieving; we are providing support for them as well. The teachers are grieving because Jamilia was a model student so they are struggling with the idea of not having her. One of them said to me, ‘Can you imagine the first morning of school when I am actually going into the class and not seeing Jamilia? I am just dreading the experience!’ So they are struggling as well,” Smith lamented.

The grief and shock within the school community pervades Cotton Tree, a usually peaceful community where not a lot happens. Now it has the unwelcome reputation of being the place where two teenage girls and a woman were viciously attacked inside their house. A nine-year-old child who was at the house at the time of the incident was not harmed. But that has been the source of discontent among relatives.

The nine-year-old is Venis Anderson’s grandchild and she told the Observer that she has received death threats from relatives who are speculating about the perpetrators’ identity based on the fact that the child was unharmed.

“They say [the reason for the attack] must be a feud if my granddaughter was not hurt,” bemoaned Anderson. Jamilia’s mother is her daughter-in-law.

With rampant rumours of a family feud, the police say they are not ruling anything out as they investigate the horrific attack. One man is in custody for questioning.

“We are not discarding anything. We are investigating but we are again appealing for the persons that know anything to come forward and tell us what they know. They may think it is insignificant, but bring it forward to us and Iet us treat with it; it may be that little part of the puzzle that we need to really close it,” appealed head of the Trelawny Police Division Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Winston Milton.

On Tuesday family members and residents who milled around the community appeared shell-shocked. It has not helped that their community has made headlines even beyond Jamaica’s borders.

“The whole world calling me. People from London, from New York, from Miami asking what is this happening in our community. It rock the whole place. You must be an animal to not feel this one. This one touch me to the core. We have to crack this one,” said renowned community businessman Kenneth Grant.

For Carlene Campbell, who lives a short distance from the house where the attack occurred, it has been a surreal experience.

“I have never seen something like this in real life; I only see it on the news. So when it comes in your backyard it’s scary,” she said.

According to the police, about 2:30 am on Sunday a 39-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old niece were asleep at their home when hoodlums entered the house through a kitchen window.

The culprits reportedly used blunt instruments to beat the three females in their heads, and the 15-year-old was raped.

The injured females were transported to Percy Junor Hospital in Spaulding, Manchester, from where Cole was subsequently transferred to the Kingston hospital at which she eventually succumbed to her injuries on Monday while undergoing treatment.

“I grow up here and I never heard of anything like this. This is disgusting. This is my community; I am very close to the family,” said People’s National Party councillor/caretaker for the Albert Town Division Lloyd Gillings.

He was among the throng of officials who sought to provide support to young Jamilia’s family and the wider Cotton Tree community on Tuesday.

Also on the scene was Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams and regional representatives from the ministry; Trelawny Southern Member of Parliament Marisa Dalrymple Philbert; mayor of Falmouth, Councillor C Junior Gager (Jamaica Labour Party, Warsop Division); along with members of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.

Like DSP Milton, Williams and Dalrymple Philbert also appealed to residents to tell the police what they know.

“I don’t know where the story originated about a dispute, I don’t know, but the fact is, if they are talking about a dispute… they must know something. So if people know of a dispute, just get up and talk. Don’t just randomly say some foolishness that there is no basis to; get up and talk what you know. Get up and speak. And I really believe that every single person should be held accountable in this district. Look where the homes are — couple steps apart. We don’t live miles apart,” said Dalrymple Philbert.