Five years after the Lindo Creek massacre, relatives of the miners who were slain are still seeking answers and closure even as Crime Chief Seelall Persaud says that an eyewitness to the incident remains in protective custody.
Contacted recently for an update, Persaud said police are not looking for anyone but unless otherwise directed the case will remain open. He told Stabroek News, “we have a witness to the incident”, noting that all of the suspects in the killings are now deceased.
Persaud said police had sent a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice. He said while it was returned with advice on the disposal of the bones which were recovered from the camp site, nothing was stated about the investigations.
He said the crime lab in Jamaica where the burnt bones were sent, had given “partial results”. When asked if investigators were expecting the complete results, Persaud said he was unsure.
According to Persaud, the witness is currently in protective custody and has given “evidence in quite a few other matters”. The person who the crime chief is referring to reportedly came forward on July 3, 2008.
Then police commissioner Henry Greene, who is now deceased, had said that the eyewitness had given investigators a detailed account of what transpired at the camp. Greene had said that the identity of the witness could not be disclosed.
According to Greene, “the eyewitness has said that the men were attacked by ‘Fine Man’ and his gang. They went there at night. Basically, they attacked the men. They tied them up, they cooked, etcetera, and then the next night they were shot and killed.”
He added that the eyewitness related that, after the shooting, one of the victims was still alive, and he was beaten with a hammer until he succumbed.
Persaud in his recent interview with this newspaper said that unless the DPP advises that the case be closed, it will remain open.
It is suspected that eight miners—Dax Arokium, Cecil Arokium, Clifton Wong, Nigel Torres, Compton Speirs, Bonny Harry, Horace Drakes and Lancelot Lee—were killed sometime between June 9 and 10 before their camp was set alight.
On June 21, 2008, after receiving reports that the men had been killed, Leonard Arokium, the owner of the diamond-mining operation, went there and discovered burnt bones and skulls. The two Arokiums were his son and brother respectively.
After Arokium’s gruesome discovery, law enforcement officials went to the site and removed the remains.
The Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago and Major Investigation Task Force of the Jamaica Constabulary Force assisted in processing the scene. The investigators advised that the identification of the persons murdered could only have been determined via DNA analysis, the release added. As a result, samples of the human remains recovered from the Crime Scene were taken by the Jamaican Team (which included a Forensic Pathologist) to the Jamaican Forensic Laboratory for analysis, while, the remainder were stored at the Lyken’s Funeral Parlour.
Last year the Jamaican forensic experts confirmed the remains as being those of the slain men but were unable to group together the body parts of each of the men.
As such last September when government made a decision to have them buried, they were placed in three coffins. One coffin had the name ‘Clifton Wong’ printed on it; ‘Nigel Torres’ was on another and ‘Bonny Harris’ on the third.
Recently Stabroek News spoke with the relatives of Lee and Torres, who said they have heard nothing on the probe even as many unanswered questions continue to linger in their minds. For them they will never get closure until they know what really occurred.
At 71 years old Teresa Lee said that the last five years have been rough. She said that just thinking about her son, the fourth of her six children, makes her ill.
“I haven’t heard anything. Nobody never come around and tell me nothing. I just keep praying…,” the elderly woman said adding that she always thinks about the gruesome way her son’s life ended.
She said what hurts even more is that she did not get to see what was left of her son and bid him farewell for the last time. The woman had repeatedly said that at no time did the police contact her to see that the bones were being buried. As such she was not present at the funeral service.
“Í was saying that they could have given us back something. I wanted to be [at the funeral]”, she said her voice filled with emotion. She also criticised the authorities for not allowing the relatives of Torres to view the remains. They were the only family members of the men to attend the funeral service, which was held at the Lyken’s Funeral Home.
She said she is hoping for answers and has put her trust in God.
Teresa told this newspaper that earlier this year one of her children saw Leonard Arokium and he asked for her. The woman said she was told that the man expressed understanding at the hardship they were enduring.
Meanwhile, a distraught Yonette Torres erupted into tears as she spoke of her son. At the time of the incident Torres was 17 years old and the eldest of his mother’s 11 children. He had gone to Lindo Creek at the invitation of Harry, who was the manager of the camp. That was his first trip to that area.
Yonette recalled how she had begged him not to go. She said he was going to earn some money to help her look after his siblings.
The woman told this newspaper from her home in Kwakwani that “nobody ain’t say nothing to me and I ain’t comfortable about meh son’s death”. She said that recently someone asked her if she had heard anything and all she could do was cry.
“I always remember my son and I don’t know why he had to die like that. Since then I can’t ketch myself,” she said adding that he was going to help her afford to send the younger ones to school. She said that because of her financial situation, at present they cannot go to school.
She said she and her husband are facing such a heavy financial hardship that it is impossible to put a memoriam in the newspaper when they hardly have enough money for foodstuff or clothing.
“I have been hurt and hurting for my son. Government didn’t even give us anything. They were lying so much,” she said. The woman said that when she travelled to Georgetown for the funeral service both the police and the pastor had assured her that she would be allowed to see the remains that were in the coffin bearing her son’s name. When she asked about the other relatives, she said the ranks told her, “we nah get time with them”.
She said, “it bring joy to my heart”, but when the service was finished and she was told that she could not view the remains, it broke her.
“Nigel was the eldest of ten children. That is why he go. He was like a savior to me. He was a good son. Right now I talking to you and my eyes is sheer tears. He was a very loving child, mannerly and respectable,” she said.
The woman also expressed the view that the now deceased notorious gang leader Rondell `Fineman’ Rawlins was not responsible for the killing.
Was it `Fineman’ or
joint services ranks?
Police had insisted that the massacre was the work of `Fineman’ and his gang but there are persons including Leonard Arokium, who had expressed the view that lawmen were responsible.
Recently, someone familiar with the area had recalled that prior to the discovery of the bodies, the mechanic for the camp had transported some “black clothes” police and soldiers to Kwakwani from the Lindo Creek area. Apparently, sometime earlier a large wild animal was killed and as such they wanted to get the meat out of the area so that it would not spoil.
The mechanic, when asked why he was with the ranks had told someone at the waterfront that he had gone out to buy cigarettes and that the camp manger did not know that he had left. It was during that conversation that the man revealed that there was a wash down and that they had found a lot of diamonds.
Sometime later, reports stated, the ranks went to a camp in the area and asked the occupants for directions to Arokium’s camp. At the time the occupants were frying fish and all but one of them refused to speak. That person apparently gave the ranks directions.
Based on what this newspaper was told, this occurred on a Sunday morning, the same day it is believed the men were killed. While following the directions, the ranks reportedly found a man walking along the trail. It is believed that that person was Torres who was taking his usual early morning walk.
He apparently joined the vehicle with the ranks and headed back to the campsite.
What happened thereafter is unclear.
Residents had said that a man’s account of what occurred at Lindo Creek in early June 2008 has been and continues to be consistent. They said he told them that he was at Lindo Creek with eight other men.
He related that he had gone off into the bushes “to ease his bowels” when he heard a hail of gunshots. He approached cautiously and from a safe distance, saw a group of approximately five men standing guard while a few others seemed to be questioning the miners as they beat them with sledgehammers; he could hear them hollering, he told the residents.
After a while, the men drenched the camp and the miners with fuel and then lit the camp and its occupants afire, he told the residents. He also claimed that the men stayed there, throwing more fuel whenever the flames began to quell. The man told the residents that the killers then left the area by boat after they were satisfied that the camp and the campers were completely burnt. He recounted to them that while he looked on he trembled with fear at the thought that he might have been caught and killed.
Police had said they encountered ‘Fineman’ and his gang during a confrontation at Christmas Falls on June 6. They said one of the gunmen was killed while six others managed to escape.
The eight miners were believed to have been murdered sometime after this date.
Shortly after June 16, a group of gunmen hijacked a busload of passengers on the Aroaima trail and disappeared. Police killed two gunmen subsequently at Goat Farm, located some 90 miles from Christmas Falls and arrested a teenager at Ituni.
The two men killed at Goat Farm were identified as Cecil Ramcharran called ‘Uncle Willie’ and Robin Chung called ‘Chung Boy’. Police had earlier said that ballistics tests on the spent shells discovered at the Lindo Creek scene found that they matched one of the weapons recovered by the security forces following the confrontation at Goat Farm.
Police have never explained how the gang would have moved 90 miles from the original confrontation with weapons and supplies when they were supposed to have been on the run. The police have also not explained how since the Joint Services had control of the area there was no sign of smoke from the camp when the bodies were being burnt.
Another area of concern is how the cellphones of two of the miners were found to be in use after their burnt remains were found.
Former police commissioner Winston Felix believes that an inquest is needed to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding the Lindo Creek massacre and to finally put the matter to rest.
Felix who is now the shadow Home Affairs Minister for the APNU told Stabroek News that an inquest would determine if there is anyone criminally concerned in the deaths of the men. “That is something that we haven’t heard about and that is the question which should be asked…,” he said adding that the laws state that if there is a sudden violent or unnatural death, it should be reported to the coroner for an inquest. As such, one would expect that an inquest of some sort or inquiry ought to be forthcoming.
Felix said that being on the outside, “I see it [this case]) as a challenge to the investigative skill of the police.” He noted that there was a view, which is not being accepted, that the criminals might have done it. Persons, he said, have quashed that view because persons who know the geography of the area doubted that the criminals would have been able to get deeper into the jungle and back out without being detected. “With the [law enforcement) services chasing them they could not have gone in there do all of that and then come out without being detected. So persons who knew the area well have thrown that suggestion out of the window,” he said.
He said that it would be good not only to have an arrest but to have an arrest based on proper evidence. Felix said the amount of time that has elapsed may not be a detriment to the case as there have been people who were on the run for years before they were arrested, charged and convicted. “So I don’t want to put any negative on that. All I would hope is that anybody brought to justice, there ought to be good and sufficient evidence to convict them,” he said.