News

Family separated by a raging inferno

Victims appeal for support to get their lives back together

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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SAMANTHA Baudoo, 16, was on her way to school by way of the Bog Walk Gorge on November 25, when the Toyota Coaster bus in which she was travelling crashed into the back of a motor car after the driver lost control of the speeding vehicle.

Two days later, unable to bear the pain in her shoulders and back as a result, the child's mother, Carolette Bell-Marshall took her to the Linstead General Hospital, accompanied by her younger sister, Kimberly Bagaloo.

But even as she waited to be attended to, a phone call from Samantha's stepfather instantly numbed the pain and turned Samantha's world upside down.

Their two-bedroom house in Shenton, Bog Walk, was gutted by fire.

By the time the three arrived home, some 10 minutes after receiving the call, the entire house was destroyed. The only thing they saved was the clothes that they were wearing.

"All I could think of was how could two bad things happen to me in one week," the St Catherine High School grade 11 student said.

"I could not help thinking that the devil was really after me... like he was really putting up a war against me," she added.

The child said that all she could do, as she stared at her house going up in flames, was cry endlessly.

"All my text books for CXC were gone. All my lab books and everything, gone," Samantha told the Jamaica Observer as she stared at the remains of what was, up to a month ago, her home.

"I lost my trophy for Best Camper from church ... Church of the First Born," she said.

She bent to pick up a handbag from the rubble that she said belonged to her.

"I was saving $2,000 and my $2,000 burn up. I was saving it to pay for my banquet ticket at church. My school reports, uniforms and all my nice dresses burn up," she lamented, even as she retrieved a half-burnt copy of her grade 10 school report.

Samantha was looking forward to sitting eight subjects in the sciences come May.

Her younger sister is a first former at the Dinthill Technical High School.

Gregory Marshall, Samantha's stepfather, said that reports by the investigating officers revealed that the fire was a result of sabotage.

"The fireman was saying it seems as if somebody gassed the house," Marshall said. "There is no way a house like this can burn down in 15 minutes.

Marshall said that while the rest of the family was still at the hospital, he left for work on a nearby property where he is a watchman, around 5:30 pm.

"I made sure that everything was okay and then I left here," he told the Sunday Observer on Thursday. "It was early evening so it wasn't dark. And I don't have any light (electricity) here to say, boy, it was short-circuit. For the past three years we don't have any light here. We use candles at nights but she (wife) wasn't here and it was early, so there was no need to light candle," he explained.

Marshall said that around 8:00 pm he received a call from his mother who lived nearby, to say that the house was on fire.

"When I rushed come up here, all I could do is fold my arms and watch the house burn. I couldn't do anything," he said. "By the time fire truck come, it was just cooling-down process and they did the assessment and so," he added.

Marshall said that persons could have entered the house and throw gasoline all over the inside, because, for some reason, that evening he could not find the keys to lock up before leaving. So all he could do was pull up the door and call his wife to tell her to hurry home, as a result.

But his wife said that if she was there, chances are that they would still have a home today.

"If I was here it couldn't happen," Bell-Marshall said. "Who came and light it could not enter, because I am the one they fear. I don't ease up off anything and I don't put up with foolishness. Anybody say anything that is wrong I will go against it. So is me they fear," she said.

She said that because of her no-nonsense attitude, people have sent threats to say "one way or the other, they were going to get rid of me out of the lane. And when they plan to do certain things I would say, as long as I am here that cannot happen, because I am the person who will defend my family. So I think that is the cause of everything," Bell-Marshall theorised.

She said that when she received news at the hospital that her house was in flames she went into instant shock.

"When I come, I just couldn't believe that they really burn down we house. Even now I can't believe. Sometimes it seem like is dream I'm dreaming," she added. "One of the firemen called and told me that they doused the house with gas and then light it," she said.

Bell-Marshall said that the estimated value of the house is $2 million.

"We had a computer, we had two plasma TVs, and a brand-new one was under the bed still in the box and one on the shelf because I was trying to get back the light. We had a deep-freeze, stove, table, a lot of little things and personal items for the kids, and their books. Everything gone. I'm telling you, everything gone. I saved one clothes on my back. And the children had on their uniforms and the books that they used that day in school. That is all that was saved," the distressed mother said.

She said that because she didn't get to attend high school, she is trying her best to ensure that her children get the best opportunity to do so. And so the loss of books, uniforms, plus her source of income, is a big setback for them.

"This is a big step back. I'm just praying to God that Samantha pass her CXCs," she said.

Bell-Marshall worked as a higgler, selling slippers in the town of Linstead, but said that the bag with slippers, valued at over $40,000, was destroyed by the flames.

"The whole bag of slippers burn up so I have nothing to sell right now," she said.

The higgler, who said she and her husband sold copies of the Jamaica Observer newspaper in the past, want, nothing more than to get a roof back over their heads so that the family can once again be together.

"But you know, sometimes they want to come back home because they are used to staying here with us. They are used to the entire family being together," Bell-Marshall explained. "Sometimes I miss having them around, but right now it is best for them to stay where they are and not where I am because it's just a small one-room and it couldn't accommodate all of us," she said.

Presently, the family is divided, with Marshall and his wife staying with his boss and the two girls with their godmother.

So far, Samantha and Kimberly have got uniforms from their guidance counsellor and godmother, respectively, while their uncle and church friends have helped as best they could.

"But you know the books ... the books. I would really want to get back some books," Samantha lamented.

A visit to the property revealed a two-bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen burnt-out concrete structure occupied by eight dogs owned by the family. Their cat, which they acquired a week before the fire, died in the inferno.

In fact, they said they had a dog who would try to bite persons who entered the property unnoticed, but one week before the fire, he was found poisoned in the yard.

"So it look like somebody poison the dog because they wanted to get rid of him. So it's like it was pre-planned," Bell-Marshall said.

Samantha, whose dream is to become a veterinarian, said that she is confident that she will be able to sit her exams, despite her hurdles. However, she is not sure about going on to university, because of the challenges that the family now faces, having to now focus on rebuilding a home.

"So I'm now wondering if I should change my career choice," she said.

The child's stepfather said that things will be even harder now for the family, which was already struggling before the incident.

"Somebody else was using the current from the house and ran up the bill, so it was disconnected and we have been trying to pay it off. So it was disconnected 'bout three years now. So is working we working to clear that up. So things weren't that well with us even before the fire," Marshall said.

The family is asking anyone who can assist them out of their dilemma, including the children to get back their school books, to do so by contacting them at 450-0396.

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