Pandemonium broke out yesterday afternoon after some prisoners allegedly set the Camp Street prison on fire and fled the facility.
Almost the entire prison was wrecked in the ensuing fire.
Police last night put out wanted bulletins for Mark Royden Williams, who was convicted in February this year over the Bartica massacre of 2008, and Uree Varswyk who was recently committed to stand trial for murder. The other escapees are unidentified.
The fire began close to 3pm and by 8 pm the entire complex, many of the aged buildings made of wood, was ablaze. The complex was flattened and up to press time this morning fire-fighters were left monitoring the situation.
Hundreds of prisoners were evacuated from the facility and taken to the Lusignan jail and other facilities. The capital section was completely burnt in the early part of the afternoon
Along with flames, large amounts of smoke rose from the compound and as it grew family members of prisoners wailed while onlookers condemned the fire service.
Stabroek News arrived on the scene around 4:15 pm after there was a report of a shootout involving prisoners and prison wardens inside of the jail. Upon arrival, several armed prison wardens were seen outside of the jail, one with blood on his clothes who told Stabroek News that there had been an altercation between the wardens and some of the prisoners, whereby one of the officers was relieved of his gun and held hostage.
A gunfight subsequently ensued where one of the prison wardens was shot, another one chopped and four of the prisoners escaped.
A prison warden died while receiving medical attention at the George-town Public Hospital. He has been identified as Odinga Wain Wickham.
According to two kitchen staffers, it was during the scheduled dinner feeding that the prisoners launched their attack. They recounted that the attack began around 3 pm.
The woman explained. “It was feeding time and they were all coming out and it was a vulnerable time when they catch we the cells were open. They staged it,” she said.
When Stabroek News arrived on the scene the woman was in the arms of another colleague. They comforted each other and thanked God for life.
One of the women told this newspaper “I would a be a dead woman, one had a long juka (an improvised weapon) to my face but is good thing I don’t deal bad with jail man.”
Recounting their experiences, the women said “what you think you couldn’t do you do. Some lil lil hole we come out.” We had to climb walls and fence to get out,” they explained, adding that a few prisoners assisted them to escape.
The woman said as the attack ensued, a prisoner ran into the office of a prison warden who they identified as Trim and started chopping him. “He was off guard and they go till to his office. I don’t know is wha Trim do them I don’t know”, she said sympathetically. The guard is currently a patient at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Meanwhile, another warden was rushed to the public hospital yesterday afternoon after complaining of chest pains.
Reports also stated that the prisoners attacked female guards with improvised weapons and seized two guns from them.
The situation turned for the worse after smoke was seen emanating from the south west building of the jail. Shortly after, the entire building burst into flames. Warning shots from the police officers guarding the jail’s perimeter filled the air. Two fire tenders rushed to the south side of the jail in a bid to contain the fire. This was sometime around 5.30 pm.
However, while the fire service was focusing on the south side of the prison, another fire broke out at the north eastern building, which is reportedly the Chapel. Within a matter of minutes the entire building went up in flames as the fire service was unable to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to the adjacent building, which is reportedly the infirmary where prisoners who are unable to walk are kept. Even with the Fire Service having several tenders trying to fight the fire at all ends, their efforts were inadequate as the entire prison went up in flames.
Fire-fighters were traversing back and forth to tap water as they battled the blaze that became uncontrollable.
Thousands of people gathered around the scene, braving the blazing heat and families were seen crying as they tried to figure out the fate of their loved ones who were in the prison. Prisoners were seen in the sentry towers and in the halls of the capital offences building trying to avoid the blistering heat from the flames. Officers and other ranks from the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) surrounded the perimeter and soldiers were seen crouching on the ground, looking on, ensuring that the prisoners did not jump over the fence in a bid to escape.
Many raised question about the whereabouts of the SWAT team that was organized in 2014. Persons were also heard voicing concerns over the poor presence of the police force. “When is parliament you see more police on the road, this is a big fire and you aint seeing them,” one man stressed.
The police and army presence grew around 6pm almost two hours after the catastrophe struck.
As the fire spread to other buildings some prisoners watched helplessly. One prisoner stripped off his clothes and came outside half naked, held his arms in the air and begged to be rescued. As the fire continued and the heat intensified other prisoners started tossing bricks and other projectiles over the fence to vent their frustration. The crowd and police officers were seen scattering as large bricks rained down. Soon after, around 6:13 pm, the building on the south eastern side, which is reportedly the arms storage caught afire and continued blazing. It started with scanty smoke and then suddenly burst into flames.
The efforts of the Fire Service could not contain the fire or prevent it from spreading to the administration building, which is connected to the storage building. The fire continued and blazed through the evening as the black smoke occluded the area.
During the starting of the fire, several dozen prisoners were taken out and transported to the sports bar, opposite the prison where they were kept secure. However, the situation escalated after thick smoke was seen emanating from the roof of the sports club. Scores of people who were around started running and screaming as they realised the sports bar was on fire.
According to information reaching Stabroek News, the prisoners continued the unrest in the sports bar and several of them broke bottles of alcohol and set the building on fire. Within minutes the entire building was engulfed in flames and the fire service again was unable to prevent the building from burning to the ground.
Gunshots and explosions filled the air as the crowd scattered in a frenzy. Persons jumped fences and hid behind large obstacles in a bid to get away from the thick, stifling smoke and to be secure from the periodic gunshots.
Scores of persons were heard chanting “free the prisoners” as the fire continued uncontrollably. Several minutes later the army and fire service collaborated and placed a ladder on the fence in a bid to get the prisoners out of the burning prison.
Prisoners flowed through and filled trucks and buses and were transported throughout the evening to the Lusignan prison. Stabroek News noted more than 15 loads of prisoners in buses and trucks being transported with heavy police escort.
As the vehicles sped along Camp Street, the prisoners made noise and threw incoherent remarks to the crowds. Some threw bottles and other projectiles in the air, while some chanted “freedom, freedom.”
The prison continued burning throughout the night and at about 10:45 pm, a final load of four buses and a truck, filled with prisoners, left the vicinity and rushed to the Lusignan Prison.
And, as the prisons burned, rumours of unrest at the other prisons at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, Mazaruni in Cuyuni/Mazaruni and New Amsterdam, Berbice began to circulate.
When Stabroek News visited the Lusignan prison it sported heavy security by members of the Tactical Services Unit and the Guyana Defence Force. As prisoners arrived they were escorted into the prison compound. The process was observed to be running without any hiccups. Stabroek News also understands from the guards outside of the prisons, that medical personnel were present to treat any prisoner who would have suffered injuries.
While all the arms of the joint services were called to action last night to support the Prison Service and to control the situation, questions were raised as to why the police presence was scanty. Last night, the authorities said that at least six prison officers are in hospital suffering from chop wounds or bullet wounds as a result of the prison uprising and three prisoners are hospitalised.
Police in a police press release last night confirmed, two men Uree Varswyk AK Malcolm Gordon and Mark Royden Durant Aka Royden Williams C/D “Smallie” are wanted by the police in relation to Murder and Escape from Lawful Custody (Georgetown Prison).
Anyone with Information that may lead to the arrest of Varswyk Lot 30 Church Street, Zeskenderen, Mahaicony East Coast Demerara (ECD) and Mark Royden Durant aka Royden Williams c/d “Smallie” of Friendship Buxton, ECD are asked to contact the police on telephone numbers 225-6411, 226-1389, 227-2128, 226-7065, 225-2227, 225-0575, 911 or the nearest police station. (By Dhanash Ramroop and David Papannah)