‘It’s really hard’

MONTEGO BAY, St James — While many schoolmates of little Justin Perry and Nahcoliva Smith were dry eyed on Tuesday — their innocence shielding them from the ability to imagine the violence that claimed the boys’ lives a day earlier — the principal and his staff mourned openly.

“It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s really hard, and we are not really handling it well. As for me, I am shaken up as the leader, and the entire staff — we are a close-knit school — is shaken up,” principal of Chetwood Memorial Primary and Infant School in Montego Bay, St James, Garvin Atkinson told the Jamaica Observer.

Morning devotion, which he led, was emotional, and for much of the day the air was thick with grief that shrouded the adults.

When Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson, and members of the security forces later gathered in the principal’s office to offer words of comfort, the school administrator’s cheeks were wet with tears as he spoke of the impact of the boys’ deaths.

In seven-year-old Justin’s grade two classroom, a picture of him hugged the wall over the space where he usually sat. His classmates were kept busy recording a video message to his mother, telling her how much they missed him. His sobbing teacher, who asked not to be named, was held in the comforting grip of another child’s mother.

The educator spoke of Justin’s humility and how he always tried his best. She is now left with the memory of the last time they spoke.

“He would always say goodbye, and just like usual he came and said, ‘Goodbye, Miss.’ I can’t believe this would be the last thing I would say to him,” she said in tears.

Nine-year-old Nahcoliva’s grade three teacher described him as helpful and a leader among his peers, both in terms of his height and his attitude. She said he would be missed.

“He was an excellent student, one that could be depended on and who would always be ready to assist whenever necessary,” said the teacher who also asked not to be identified by name.

The two boys were killed Monday evening, along with 26-year-old Tevin Hayle, when shots were fired into the taxi that was supposed to take them safely home after a day at school. All three were from Salt Spring, a community that had been shedding itself of a reputation as violence-torn. In recent weeks, the bloodletting returned to the area.

The police theorise that Hayle was the target of Monday’s attack. He had been urged to turn himself in as cops probed the October 26 shooting of a couple near the gate of Salt Spring Primary School.

According to the police report on Monday’s incident, about 5:20 pm a taxi operator was driving his grey 2006 motor car from Salt Spring heading to Montego Bay with Justin and Nahcoliva on board.

Hayle reportedly stopped the vehicle and asked to be dropped at home. As he entered the car, a man armed with a rifle exited bushes along the right side of the road and opened gunfire at the vehicle. The two little boys and Perry were hit in the head and upper body.

The taxi driver drove to the Montego Hills Police Station. Hayle and the boys were rushed to Cornwall Regional Hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.

Police processing the scene of the shooting found five .308 spent casings.

On Tuesday, Principal Atkinson called for a speedy resolution of the incident.

“The law enforcement department must do their jobs swiftly to bring the criminals to justice. It must be swift because the parents of the children need closure; the children were innocent victims,” he urged.

School board Chairman Judith White also called for swift action.

“I would like to say to the politicians, the police, the major movers and shakers, ‘What are we going to do?’. These children were collateral damage; it could be me or you tomorrow. We need to stop this,” she lamented.

“I am standing here, trying to fight back the tears because this school functions like a family, so all of the children belong to all of us,” she added.

During his visit to the area, Minister Chang promised that everything will be done to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

“This kind of criminal activity and brutal activity cannot be, in any way, countenanced by any element of the Government and security forces. We will be mobilising all resources and possible legislative activities to hunt them down, find them, and apprehend them,” he assured.

“They will be removed from the society, as is required, as fast as possible. Every effort will be made,” he said staunchly.