This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the situation involving heinous, violent attacks on the nation’s children, which resulted in the killing of two schoolboys and the wounding of two other students over the week.
The crime endemic engulfed the nation’s overall school population in waves, with the murders of 15-year-old Kenuth Williams, a grade 10 student of Papine High School in St Andrew, and 16-year-old Kamal Hall, a fifth form student of William Knibb Memorial High School, who were killed in contrasting circumstances.
Kamal, who was stabbed to death on his school compond on Monday, was allegedly killed by a schoolmate over a ‘guard ring’, which is usually used by criminals as a perceived form of protection.
The schoolmate has been charged with murder in relation to Kamal’s death, and was granted bail when he appeared in the Trelawny Family Court on Friday
By Wednesday, young Kenuth was gunned down in the Corporate Area during an attempted robbery. A 16-year-old boy is now in custody relative to the police’s probe into the 15-year-old’s murder.
The spate of attacks against the island’s youngsters continued on Wednesday with the stabbing of an Excelsior High School student, and the wounding of a 15-year-old Oracabessa High School pupil during a gun attack in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
The attacks on the teenagers left the nation stunned, with many persons questioning the extent of the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, given the raft of violent confrontations that have been emerging since the resumption of face-to-face classes nationally.
The confrontations seemed to have intensified with the full resumption of physical classes on Monday, March 7.
As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, the nation was plunged into grief on Thursday by the devastating news of the deaths of two sisters, aged three and four years, in a fire at their home in Hayesfield, Race Course, Clarendon.
In relation to the confrontations engulfing schools, the week started out with the death of the promising William Knibb goalkeeper, Kamal Hall.
It was reported that Kamal and another schoolboy were engaged in a confrontation, allegedly over a ‘guard ring’, on the school compound during the lunch break on Monday.
The argument escalated into a fight, and a knife was reportedly brought into play and used to inflict stab wounds to Kamal.
The injured student was rushed to the Falmouth Hospital, where he died while undergoing treatment.
In a flow of tributes to young Kamal, Acting Principal of William Knibb Memorial High, Audrey Steele, described the deceased youngster as having been “well-behaved”.
She said she never had a problem in terms of discipline with either the deceased or the student who is accused of the stabbing.
Kamal’s brother, David Swaby, who informed that his sibling resided in Deeside, Trelawny, was a picture of grief as he shared with reporters that his brother was “a talented youth”.
Added Swaby: “Kamal was the goalkeeper for his school which went to the quarter-finals of the daCosta Cup. Him was good at track and field; him is a good sportsman.”
In the aftermath of the deadly incident at William Knibb Memorial High in Trelawny, several weapons, including scissors and ratchet knives, were seized from students at the institution.
Additionally, it was reported that several guard rings were confiscated from the students at the Trelawny-based institution.
By Wednesday, reports surfaced of another stabbing of a male student on the compound of another high school, which also raised the eyebrows of parents and other stakeholders in the education sector.
That incident occurred at Excelsior High School on Mountain View Avenue in St Andrew.
Though the altercation was not tragic, it resulted in an outcry from citizens for the Fayval Williams-led Education and Youth Ministry for measures to be implemented to stem the violent attacks in schools.
Reports are that shortly after 2pm on Wednesday, just after classes were dismissed, two grade 11 boys got into a fight outside the school’s main gate. A weapon was drawn, and one child was stabbed in the hand, head and chest.
The injured boy was admitted to hospital in serious but stable condition. It is not clear if he has since been released from the facility.
The police launched a search for the reported attacker in relation to that incident.
A video clip of the altercation between the schoolboys at the gate made the rounds on social media.
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) said it sent a team of representatives to Excelsior on Thursday, to conduct counselling and other interventions following the stabbing incident the day before.
The CPFSA, in a statement, said as per protocol for first responders, its representatives would accompany the police to the school to meet with school officials and students.
The agency said it will also work alongside officials from the Education Ministry in providing counselling and support to the wounded student and his family.
Social media users were left shocked by the two incidents of violence at the two secondary institutions.
@Zemi66 tweeted: “Is PALS (Peace and Love in Schools) still keeping? Every school should have a once-a-week subject period on dispute resolution. We all have seen the many, many viral videos of schoolers fighting at school and on the streets. They grow up to be adults fighting on the streets.”
In response to that tweet, @Zelainey questioned: “What are these teenagers doing with guard rings? Them in a scamming or criminality why them need protection? Why do they fear being caught by the police? Where are the parents in all of this? The entire school community need counselling.”
In commenting on the presumed impact of COVID-19 on students, another Twitter user asked: “Wah kinda anger these students developed over the last three years … no sah.”
Similarly, Facebook user, Icilda O’Connor, questioned the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the behaviour of the students, especially their mental health.
“What on earth is happening to our young people? Did the COVID hit their brains?” she quizzed.
Questions have been raised about the medical well-being, especially from a psychological standpoint, of some students as a result of the negative impact of having been out of the physical school setting for some two years.
“My take on it, better they had stay home. My word! In the short space of time school just returned to normalcy and everyday something else. Is the world coming to an end? Smh,” she commented.
Opposition Spokesperson on Education, Dr Angela Brown Burke, called on the Government on Thursday to implement a formal coordinated programme to deal with issues affecting students.
“There are parents… who are now wondering whether school is a safe place for their children,” she said in reference to the spate of recent school-related violent confrontations.
Continuing, she said: “We already have seen that the family homes, in many instances, are not safe spaces. Our communities, many of them are not safe spaces.
“We have to ensure that we keep our schools as a safe place, and the ministry has to give some guidance and some template, and some kind of direction to help our schools to ensure that are able to do that,” she indicated.
The People’s National Party (PNP) Chairman urged the state to also partner with stakeholders, such as churches, parents, and communities, to address the spate of violence involving students.
Dr Angela Brown-Burke
In response to the spate of violent attacks in schools, the Education and Youth Ministry on Friday disclosed that it will be conducting an audit of metal detectors in schools come Monday.
The audit, according to Minister of Education and Youth, Fayval Williams, is to ensure that schools are equipped with the devices to detect weapons that may be used to cause harm during disputes.
In addressing a ‘Safety in Schools’ press briefing on Friday, Williams admitted that while the metal detectors will not solve all the problems, they will help to detect weapons and possibly save lives.
“Our safety and security in schools unit would have also provided hand-held metal detectors to all our public high schools, and I know that they are in pretty good working conditions,” she said.
“We still have some in our inventory, and these will be made available to replace any defective device as the need arises,” the minister continued.
“We will be conducting a full audit of metal detectors in schools on Monday and all of next week, and then we will have a sense of where the gaps are.
“We are directing our schools to use these daily as a preventative measure, to the extent that schools are able to take away a knife, scissors or other implements from students. It could save a life,” declared Williams.
And the minister is urging school administrators to refer children to counselling when weapons are confiscated from them.
She elaborated that, “We know that many of our students are coming from homes that are broken and are very toxic. We know that several students are suffering from trauma from the adults in the home.
“These are adults who should be protecting them. Instead, they’re causing them mental harm, and so we are saying to our schools that it is not enough to take away the implements.
“We must follow up with some counselling as well,” appealed Williams on Friday.
While that solution will likely save some lives on the school compounds, students are also at risk of criminal elements, whether on their way to school, leaving school, or while they are in their general communities.
This was the sad reality for 15-year-old Kenuth Williams, who was looking forward to participating in his mother’s wedding ceremony on the weekend to the man she loves, Kenuth’s dad.
According to reports, Kenuth, who was walking along Liguanea Avenue in St Andrew, was pounced upon by a lone gunman on foot sometime after 11 am on Wednesday.
The hoodlum attempted to rob the teen of his cell phone, but the youngster reportedly resisted. He was later shot and the alleged robber ran from the scene.
Further reports are that a passing motorists saw the injured teen lying on the roadway, and assisted him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Head of the police’s Corporate Communications Unit (CCU), Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, confirmed on Thursday that a 16-year-old boy was taken into police custody to be questioned in relation to the Papine High School student’s murder.
Another suspect, also a child, was being sought, the senior cop confirmed in a radio interview.
Lindsay said robbery was the motive of the killing, because the robber wanted the boy’s cell phone.
SSP Stephanie Lindsay
“There are these youngsters out there who are deliberately targeting people because they want to rob them of these cell phones,” she stated, urging students to put away their cell phones when walking in public spaces.
Hours after the killing, Kenuth’s parents, Carroline Robinson and Kenuth Sr, were devastated. The couple was set to tie the knot on Saturday, and his mother had ironed her son’s suit in anticipation of him being part of the occasion.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Robinson mustered up the courage to describe her son as an intelligent, humble and quiet young man, who had a straight-A profile in school.
One of Kenuth’s teachers, Georgie Campbell, also confirmed that the youngster was intelligent and averaged in the 90s. He was also one the educator’s top-three students.
On the same day that Kenuth was murdered, a 15-year-old student of the Oracabessa High School in the small St Mary town, was injured in a triple shooting along the Ocho Rios bypass road in the St Ann resort town.
The shooting resulted in the death of 41-year-old technician, Julian Facey, of Parry Town, St Ann, and the injuring of another person.
Reports are that about 7pm on Wednesday, Facey was driving along the roadway in his motorcar with the student and another passenger, when on stopping at an intersection, another motor vehicle drove up with armed men.
The men opened gunfire at the vehicle which Facey was driving, hitting him and the two passengers.
Facey died inside his car, while the two other occupants, including the student, were rushed to the hospital.
The two injured persons were admitted to the facility in serious conditions.
Up to Friday night, both persons, including the teenager, remained hospitalised.
The violent week of attacks on the nation’s youngsters generated a plethora reactions and discussions on social media.
Chris Mateo wrote on Facebook that, “It comes in THREES; first, it was William Knibb, then Papine High, now Excelsior. There needs (to be) some serious counselling and mentorship program(me) in our schools.”
Venise Walters Wainwright observed that, “Face-to-face school reopens with violence. Don’t ask the Government what it is going to do? What are we as parents doing?
“Do we expect the Government to raise our children after they have given us different means of birth control. Some of us parents, our children are raising themselves or they are been raised by the hoodlums of society,” she opined.
Mittoo Dust, based on her observations, suggested that, “This unscrupulous behaviour has become the latest trend”.
Continuing, she questioned: “So school mission is not learning again? It’s become a place to practise and perfect violence and murders?
“On the other hand, it seems the churches have lost their purpose, parents are jugglers, no time to know what is happening with their child at school until it’s too late. Lord have mercy on us,” she commented.
In relation to the death of young Kenuth, Duhaney Soniah, in describing the murder as “heartless”, said the teen’s suspected killers, who the police indicated are teenagers, “need to be treated as adults because they know right from wrong”.
Added Soniah: “They should meet the same end. Mother I pray that God will give you the strength. I mourn with you.”
Also reacting to Kenuth’s death, Angella Beckford wrote on Facebook: “Bad mind, covetous, thief, wickedness in the heart; take the young man life for his own things.
“Hope he gets the punishment he deserves. Three in one week is serious. These youngsters needs to know there is no joke in what they are doing,” wrote Beckford.
Also reacting to the Papine High student’s senseless killing, Jayharryboss56, commenting on Instagram, said: “Mi can’t believe is a 16-year-old dem arrest fi di killing.
“A boy dat fi in school man! We really fail di pickney dem as a people enuh. My God! We really, really fail dem, ’cause we have underage gunman out deh and people need fi realise dat,” he lamented.
Marlene Steer, in reacting to the Excelsior High School stabbing incident, cried out:
“Excelsior stabbing. What is happening in our schools???!!! Seems they were out for so long pick up all kinds of evil now let loose on school compound. Dear God, have mercy upon our children!” she wrote.
Though not related to any act of violence, one cannot help but mention the tragic death of sisters, three-year-old Abigail Tomlinson and four-year-old Mikayla Tomlinson, in a house fire on Thursday in Hayesfield in Clarendon.
According to reports, the sisters were left alone in a one-room zinc and concrete structure by their mother.
Residents soon saw fire coming from the dwelling shortly after 11am. Despite the best efforts of the residents, the trapped sisters could not be saved.
The fire brigade is investigating the cause of the fire, while the police have launched their own probe to determine whether negligence played any part in the death of the sisters.
In a statement on Friday relative to the deaths of the siblings, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Desmond McKenzie, appealed to parents not to leave their young children alone under any circumstance.
As he expressed sadness at the tragic death of the siblings, describing it as “a great tragedy”, the minister reiterated his appeal to Jamaicans to avoid leaving children unattended.
“The information is that the children’s mother left them in the house to do something nearby and on her return, the structure was ablaze. The Jamaica Fire Brigade responded quickly, but arrived to find a scene of devastation,” McKenzie outlined.
He noted that “Both parents have been hospitalised arising out of the trauma of losing their young ones in this terrible way.
“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to all their relatives, friends and the community of Hayesfield,” added the minister.
Similarly, several individuals also expressed their condolences to the family of the Tomlinson sisters.