Helton Lazarus, the man who died in the Stabroek Market grenade explosion, did not have a criminal record and was not known to police, Crime Chief Seelall Persaud has said.
Persons familiar with Lazarus are meanwhile disputing claims made by police that he was a courier of illegal arms and substances.
On January 5, Lazarus died and 18 persons were injured after a fragmentation grenade exploded at Brickdam and Cornhill Street. In a subsequent press statement and at a press briefing, police had said that investigations revealed that Lazarus was holding the device when it exploded; his hand was blown off and a section of his face badly damaged.
Crime Chief Seelall Persaud, responding to questions recently asked by this newspaper, said that the dead man was not an involuntary remigrant (deportee) as was initially reported. Lazarus, Persaud further said, did not have a criminal record nor was he known to the police at all.
Further, when questioned about whether police were investigating leads as to where the grenade would have come from or from whom, Persaud said that given the fact that the explosive is not manufactured locally then it is obvious that it came from an outside source. He further said that Lazarus had no money to buy a grenade and declined to comment further.
Are police looking for someone who may have planted the grenade or given the grenade? In response to this, Persaud said that investigations were ongoing.
Police Commissioner Henry Greene had stated initially that investigators were probing the theory that Lazarus was a courier of illegal arms and other substances.
Just before his death, Lazarus had been cleaning a stall owned by Mark ‘Bow-wow’ Hyman. The stall owner was arrested shortly after the explosion and was held by police for several days. He has since been released, but like Lazarus’ relatives has declined to speak with the media.
Despite the reports from police—that Lazarus was known to have transported such items—many persons, including city dwellers, vendors and fellow vagrants are contending that he was not such a man.
Most nights for the last decade before his death, Helton Lazarus, also called “DJ” or “American” slept under a crudely built structure behind the stalls at Stelling View, more popularly called “Donkey City.”
John (not his real name) told Stabroek News that he knew Lazarus for many years. The deceased, according to him, “smoked he weed” but was “no bad man.” In fact, John insisted that Lazarus was a quiet person. “I don’t believe that he woulda do something like da,” John said. “De police dem don’t really know who deh de looking for in de first place and up to now they don’t even know who this man is. Dem only think dem know, you know.”
Lazarus, according to the man, worked with various vendors and did odd jobs for residents around the Leopold and D’Urban streets area. “You see that place down deh,” John said pointing down a track which leads closer to the Demerara River, “that is where some of we does sleep.”
Another man, who roams the street during the day to make his living and sleeps around the market area at nights, said that he saw Lazarus about a week before his death. Before Lazarus started to work mostly around the market area, Harry (not his real name) said, he frequented several small shops in the Leopold and D’Urban streets area.
“I see he about a week before this explosion thing,” Harry recalled. “He been walking around the area picking up bottles and so.”
Lazarus, the man explained, used to clean stalls, collect bottles, scrap metal, weed and even wash vehicles from time to time to get “a lil change.” The deceased, according to Harry, was a peaceful man and was of a sound mind.
“DJ was de kinda man who used to pick up he tools and walk away if people didn’t want pay he for de work he do,” Harry said. “I don’t think DJ tek pay to do anything with a grenade and he wasn’t no criminal who does use to walk around de place with dem things.”
Harry said that the deceased was “afraid of de lock-ups and de police mo’ bad” and would not do anything to put himself in “police story.” He then gave this newspaper directions to the home of a woman for whom Lazarus cleaned.
The woman, who asked that the location of her residence and her name remain anonymous, said that she saw Lazarus the day before he died. Lazarus, she explained, went to her house several times during the week to clean the yard. “I used to give him a little something to clean for me and I used to talk to him as well,” the woman said. “And he listened to me and he would speak to me from time to time and I can tell you that this man was no mad man. He had a sound mind, as sound as your mind and my mind, and he had a problem which he wasn’t doing such a good job at solving.”
The woman further stressed that she did not believe Lazarus was a courier of any arms, explosives or illegal substances. “Something about what the police and the other people are saying just does not add up,” she said.
The day before the explosion, she recalled, Lazarus showed up at her place early in the morning and cleaned the front of her yard. After he finished, she recalled, she started to talk to him about changing his life. “I told him that he should turn his life to God and that he should clean himself up and start living life again,” she said, “and he looked at me as though he was stunned. You know, it was like he never really thought of doing that.”
Lazarus, the woman further explained, had his periods when he would be neatly dressed. Residents for whom he cleaned, she said, would give him clothes. “The day before the thing happen he cleaned up his skin and put on the clothes in which he died… In a picture I saw of his body at the market I saw that he was wearing slippers but he left here with brown Clarks on his feet,” she said.
Lazarus, according to the woman, also cleaned for a “Christian couple” in the area. The couple, she said, had been continuously trying to get him to change his life.
“I can tell you that he was a hard-working and honest man… he would not steal anything but if you gave him a bag of things to dump he would go through the bag before he threw it away,” she said. “I very much want to believe that this is what he was doing that day. I believe he was going through a bag he found while cleaning and went inside and found the grenade.”