Cruel twist of fate

Victim of children's home fire was placed there by mom after family house was razed in 2011

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2018



In 2011 when Trudy Parker's house was destroyed by a fire she thought that placing her daughter in State care would be the safest option.

But yesterday, in a cruel twist of fate, Parker's daughter perished in a blaze days before her 13th birthday.

The teen was one of the two wards of the State who were killed when a late night fire gutted Walker's Place of Safety on Lyndhurst Crescent in Kingston. Thirty-four other wards survived.

Superintendent Kevin Haughton from the Jamaica Brigade told the Jamaica Observer that firefighters from Half-Way-Tree, York Park, Stony Hill and Rollington Town fire stations responded to a call at 12:08 am that the home was on fire.

The firefighters took about an hour to bring the blaze under control.

Yesterday, when the Observer visited Parker at the one-room dwelling she shares with her other two children, she cried uncontrollably.

“Is burn out mi get ennuh, and I have been asking for help, help, and nobody cyaan help mi. Mi carry her at the home because mi get burn out and mi never have anywhere to go. A so come she reach a the home. Mi decide to put her in the home so mi can build back something,” Parker said.

Only the rain beating on her roof could match the tears running down Parker's face as she spoke about her daughter who was a special needs child.

Parker, who awoke to news of the tragedy, said she had made arrangements to take her daughter to the dentist yesterday.

“Last week Saturday she was here with me and she was crying for her teeth. Mi say, 'Alright then, when mi carry you back mi a go mek the appointment.' Mi no have no money, so me carry her back. Somebody did sponsor mi some blocks; is yesterday mi sell them because mi say mi waan go look 'bout her teeth. Yesterday mi go up a Comprehensive Clinic and mek the appointment and they said bring her come today (yesterday), and a so come mi sell the block them,” Parker said with tears falling down her face.

The unemployed mother said she has been trying her best to regain full custody of her daughter.

“I have been going through a lot, mighty God! Nobody to help mi. Mi go a di church and mi beg them help, and nobody to help mi put on a room,” she said.

She explained that the Child Development Agency (CDA) advised her to try to add a kitchen to the house because having a child with a disability in a one-room house with stove could pose a danger to the child.

“Dem say dem nuh waan she stumble and hurt herself,” Parker said.

“Mi cyaan cry nuh more. I visit her often. See it deh, a good report dem a give mi a CDA, cause dem seh I am always there, is me alone. Dem don't see nobody else,” Parker said looking to the ceiling.

Caregiver, Jacqueline Gutzmore, who was at the children's home when the fire started, said she was sitting upstairs when she smelt smoke.

“When I looked through the window mi see the smoke, so mi seh 'No man, this look serious,' and said time I got up and call 'Fire! Fire! Fire'. Anyhow, the big boys woke up and mi say 'Unnuh run go downstairs and see if unnuh can run go outside',” Gutzmore related.

“I grabbed some of the small ones and took them down, then I saw the fire start shoot up through a piece of board, and mi say 'No man, this look serious now man'. I came down with those boys and I told them to run. At that time the front grille was open and they ran out, and I ran back up there for five more boys. One of them was still sleeping, and I woke him up and he ran downstairs,” Gutzmore said, adding that she was assisted by another caregiver who had opened the grille at the back of the facility.

Gutzmore, who has been employed to the home for seven years, said that at that time most of the occupants were already outside.

However, the caretaker told Observer that when they began counting they noticed that two of the females were unaccounted for.

Guztmore said two of the children also received injuries. They were taken to Bustamante Hospital for Children where they were treated and released.

Another caregiver, Stephney McKenzie, who was obviously distraught, said she was at her home in Spanish Town, St Catherine, when she was informed of the tragedy.

According to McKenzie, who has been working at the facility since 1981, she took a taxi to the location.

“When I came and saw that Walker's really burn down I felt like my head was going to burst, and when I heard that two children were in the house I wanted to go inside there, but the fireman said no,” McKenzie said as she fought to hold back tears.

Even though she believes the staff did what they could, McKenzie said “I am sorry I was not there.”

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