FIRE VICTIMS SEE HELL

Girls who survived horrific Armadale blaze in 2009 anxious for justice

BY JEDIAEL CARTER
Staff reporter
carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 01, 2017

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May 22, 2009 will forever be etched in their minds.

After all, it is the day they almost died and watched as some of their friends burned in a fire at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility in St Ann.

It is eight years later, but Rena Richards and Peta-Gay Coote — two survivors of the fire — are stuck as they are yet to receive recompense for their horrific experience.

Frustrated by the delays, the women are seeking answers regarding their court case. They said that despite their many efforts to make contact with the attorney, they are still unclear regarding a time frame when the case will be tried and they will be compensated.

“It look like dem jus' put down we file on the desk an' nuh business 'bout we. Me feel this could a over with long time,” Richards, seemingly bitter, noted.

The Jamaica Observer tried unsuccessfully to contact the attorney.

“I am 23 years old now and that happen from I was 14 years old,” she noted. “They let me see a psychiatrist February gone and said by July I should be able to get my compensation, [but] July pass, I called them back an' they said they can't find my files.”

In subsequent calls, however, the women were told that the files were found, but they still did not receive information they sought.

They told the Sunday Observer that when they call, they are put on hold for extended periods, sometimes until the phone credit is exhausted.

“I am one of the girls that was actually in the fire. I'm the one who kicked off the door to save the other dormitory from burning and so the rest of girls could escape, [and] since me leave Armadale they said they are going to help out my situation and from then I haven't heard anything,” Richards pointed out.

Feeling as though nobody cares for their pain, albeit psychological, the women have grown impatient and are demanding justice.

“Me want some help now. Me cyaa wait no longer. A eight years now an' me want justice,” Richards said.

“It unfair fi dem nuh business 'bout we just because we nuh get no burn or we nuh have no scar fi show,” Coote noted with tears welling up in her eyes. “Me know me have scar fi show. My scar is how me feel same way; That is a scar to my life. One of my friend did dead in deh.

“Normally if me close mi eyes me remember about it. Me hear the screaming inna mi head of di girl dem weh did a burn in the fire. Me cyaa sleep anytime that come to me, me get nightmares,” she continued.

“Me nah say if them give me one money right now me ago forget it, enuh, but at least me could a try help myself in a certain way with it because they let we go through this process the other day,” Coote added.

Richards complained that since the fire she experiences severe back and head pains, which she believes is as a result of the harsh treatment meted out to them during the fire.

She made reference to the fact there was some amount of unrest at the home leading up to the fire, as some girls had planned to run away.

“When me a come through the window, a one high window me haffi escape through an' me drop 'pon me back. An' when me a try come through the window, the lady...have baton a beat we inna we head say we must gwaan back in 'cause a dat we want,” she said.

The women believe their lives have stalled since the fire.

Richards, who was unable to complete her high school education and attain successful passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations, expressed disappointment.

They have also been unable to secure jobs.

“It rough man. If me neva did a suffer so me would a gwaan wait till the couple years till when them want, but me want help man,” Richards said.

“Jamaica rough enuh!” she lamented. “Maybe if me mother di kind a set a foundation it would be alright, but me mother poor an' a whole heap a we. An' dem tek me from me mother say me uncontrollable an' see it deh — me go deh an' dem nuh mek me life better, dem mek it worse; me could a dead.

“Me want them look 'pon me situation, how me a live, an' mek dem see seh me really need help,” Richards noted, as she stood before the one-bedroom plyboard structure that she and her seven other relatives call home. “Me need the recompense fi further me life that [mi] can fix up mi mother house. A rent we a pay here so right now an rent a $5,000 a month and right now we owe the man (landlord) how much money.

“If me get dah money deh right now, it could a build up one house.”

Coote, who recently gave birth to her third child, told the Sunday Observer that she lives in a shack in St James that “nuh even have bathroom or anything”, and believes the money would help in her bid to better her life.

“If me fi use the bathroom now, me haffi a leave the baby on the bed by herself fi go over one next part fi use one bathroom,” she said. “Me nah go say me ago set me life 'cause me would never look on it to set me whole life, but it could help me with certain situations.”

The two lamented the psychological impact that the incident has had on them.

“Them say some a the girl them fi get $20 million. Maybe 'cause we nuh get no burn up or anything them feel say it nuh affect we, but it affect me bad,” Coote said.

She was making reference to the Supreme Court judgement last year when six girls were awarded the amount after they brought claims against the Government for breaches of their constitutional rights.

“Me just a ask them say if them could a just try and see if dem can get contact for all of the girl them in the fire and sort out something for we,” Coote pleaded. “Me 100 per cent sure know say when me reflect on my life an' think 'bout all the things me go through, that [the fire] is one a the main things weh me think affect me.”


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