– relatives claim campaign connection
(Trinidad Express) – Five people, including two children, died in a fire at the home of a known United National Congress (UNC) activist, which police and fire officials believe was deliberately set. Around 1.45 am on Sunday, a loud explosion startled residents of Sixth Avenue, Barataria.
The explosion ignited a car parked close to the entrance of an apartment where Ranchan ‘Bellies’ Dourgah, 54, lived with his wife, Taramatie Sirju-Dourgah, 56, grandchildren Nivon Bobby David, 11, and 22-month-old Christianna Dourgah, and their son-in-law Titus Joel Gabriel, 27.
The wooden entrance of the apartment, an annex to a house occupied by other members of the Dourgah family, quickly caught fire, trapping the five victims inside. The apartment did not have any fire escape and only one entrance.
Residents and relatives tried to douse the flames with buckets of water and hoses before the Fire Service arrived at the scene and extinguished the blaze and found the bodies of the five victims.
In an immediate response, the Police Service stated that an investigation had been launched but noted “as it is still very early in the investigation, no motive or cause of the fire has been determined”.
The release stated that investigators “are awaiting a report from the Fire Service which will determine the cause of the fire…No motive has yet been determined for the cause of the fire.”
But, officers of the Special Anti-Crime Unit (SAUTT), who later arrived on the scene, issued flyers to residents seeking information. The flyers, were headed ‘Suspected Homicide’ in red and appealed to persons who may have witnessed the incident to contact the Arouca Homicide at 640-7815 or 640-1738.
Police cordoned off the crime scene and brought in a mobile police booth to preserve the apartment where Crime Scene Investigators and members of the Fire Service prevention unit were to return yesterday to search for clues. Fire officers at the scene on Sunday did not rule out arson. At the scene villagers described the incident as being politically motivated but that has been dismissed by both the UNC and PNM candidates for the area.
One man, who identified himself only as a close relative of Ranchan Dourgah, told the Express that Ranchan, a well-known political activist for the UNC, had been threatened by a group of men, hours before the incident. He said Ranchan was one of the organisers of a walkabout in the constituency on Saturday, hosted by UNC candidate Dr Fuad Khan.
The man said after Ranchan returned from the walkabout he got into an argument with a group of men who were liming at a public playing field near his house. “They (Ranchan and group) come back and they was liming there (near the mango tree) and the young boys and them … say ‘boy we go burn down all yuh (expletive used) house and thing. All ah all yuh is UNC and them.’’’
He said Ranchan had an exchange of words with the boys before heading home.
People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate for San Juan/Barataria, Joseph Ross, as well as his political opponent, Khan, who visited the scene expressed their sadness over the incident and they disputed that it was linked to the current election campaign.
Ross said that he knew the Dourgah family for quite sometime and their political differences had nothing to do with their friendship.
“I am very, very saddened over this incident. These are people that I know extremely well. I grew up with them we played cricket, we played football. So it is really and truly like a family of mine. Put it that way, that has been destroyed by the incident. So I feel it for those who have survived, particularly the daughter.” Told that information in the area was that the fire was linked to Ranchan’s support of his political opponent, Ross said that was not true and accused the reporter of making up the story.
“Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. I got another story a while ago stating that this is gang related and drug related. Again, we do not know and I don’t think we should come to these kinds of assumption. Those people who support me are very, very peaceful and as a matter of fact, we are not involved in that at all, at all, at all. I know the people very well as I said. We sit, we talk despite we share different political views, so that is far from our thoughts to get involved in such kinds of behaviour. This is a very close-knit community despite our little (political) differences,” Ross said.
Khan also expressed his shock over the incident, saying that Ranchan and members of his family had earlier attended a political walkabout in the area.
“Up to yesterday, I was right here speaking to Ranchan and his wife. In fact, his little grand daughter was on the walk with me. When I heard about this and I really couldn’t believe it. I really at a lost for words as to what would cause this.
“I want to say definitely I don’t think this is political because we have been here for 1995, 2001, 2002 and now again. We have won the seat right through and this never occurred and there is no reason for this to occur now so I want to tell the general public that I personally don’t think this is political. So if anybody is saying it is political, which I have been hearing, I don’t share that view. Sometimes there may be other factors that we don’t know about.”
He promised to meet with Ross to see what assistance they can give to the surviving members of the family.
“This is shocking to me. It is extremely shocking that something like this have occurred and during the election period, he was one of my very good strongest activists here and it is sad, it’s sad,” Khan said.