Woman still traumatised 20 years after mom, dad shot dead

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Woman still traumatised 20 years after mom, dad shot dead

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 20, 2020

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The unceremonious declaration by a schoolmate that “dem kill yuh mada and fada” to a thunderstruck 15-year-old Cassandra who had just emerged from an examination room, still haunts the now 35-year-old woman.

When she got the news she reportedly sprinted to her then West Kingston address, a run interrupted only when she fell into a dead faint several doors from her home and the bloody scene which would confirm the harrowing news.

Twenty years later, the trauma of that one event which left her and two siblings orphaned, separated, and displaced, the wife and mother of two boys can barely speak about it without fighting tears.

“I was devastated, I was crushed, I was dead mentally,” the now 35-year-old shared.

The happy summer that was to be, she said, never happened.

“It was the year 2000; I was doing my final-year exams. My mother was awaiting my brother and I to return from school to take us to the country for the summer holidays. We lived in West Kingston where violence erupted very often. So when the announcement was made at school that those who lived in the west side should be careful when going home as gunshots were being fired around there, I was not alarmed,” she told the Jamaica Observer, asking that her name be withheld as the crime remains unsolved.

So strong was her sense of security that even though a friend had earlier that day visited her class to shout “dem kill yuh madda and dada” she “looked at her but thought nothing of it”.

“My parents were decent citizens that were not involved in any form of wrong doing,” she said in explaining why she was not perturbed.

It was, however, the second identical declaration by the same peer that sent her teenage world into the tailspin she is still trying to surmount as an adult.

“After the exams when I walked out the classroom she alighted from her classroom and again shouted to me downstairs, 'I'm not lying yuh mada and fada dead'. At that point I felt my heart shift; I began to run. I lived about six to seven miles from school. When I was almost home I had to pass my aunt's house who met me at her gate and told me the news. I passed out,” she recalled painfully.

After she was revived, she again ran, to what was the most painful finishing line the athletic teen ever encountered.

“I ran home to see the devastating sight where my mother was shot 15 times and my father three,” she told the Observer.

“A year before my parents were murdered my mother's brother was murdered, and that had something to do with why my parents were murdered,” she theorised.

But as if that was not painful enough, “The next day my entire extended family had to move from the area as they were told if they don't, another one would be dead. So my brother and sister and I were split up so that we could have somewhere to stay,” she said.

Being catapulted from the security of her family and home into another parish and a new school at high speed compounded the dizzying pain that enveloped the teen. She would have thought being shuttled from the home of one relative to another on account of not being able to get along with the other children there and being “treated like an outcast” was the ultimate, but that was debunked when a 'helpful' neighbour who invited her to take refuge at his home one evening after she was “put out” of her relatives home attempted to “touch” her that night. Any shred of security she had left, went away that night.

“I got off the bed and sat on the ground 'till the morning. The next day I said I was going back to Kingston, and I don't care what happens,” she said.

This potentially deadly decision to return to the space where her life had been threatened and what happened next was the beginning of the restoration of her trust in humans.

“It was a special teacher, a Godsend whom I confided in. I called her crying, telling her I'm going back to Kingston; I told her what happened and she took me in as I was on my final year at high school and she knew the potential I had. She saw in me what I did not see in myself. She took me in with her child and husband. She cared for me and showed me love no one else showed me. It was there I developed values and morals that guided me through to this day,” she told the Observer.

Asked how she has dealt with the memories of her ordeal she said, “I'm getting there. I would cry every time I accomplish something like passing my Caribbean Examination Council exams (CXCs), graduating from high school with highest honours. Mother's Day, Christmas were the worst days.”

Though she is miles away from the scene of death and light years away from being passed from house to house, she admits that shards of the past still pierce her current happiness.

“Even on my last birthday, which was two weeks ago, I became so depressed I couldn't understand why. Then I remembered that I had now become the age my mom was when she was taken from me. I couldn't sleep, and all I could do is cry while my husband held me,” she told the Observer, noting that she had received no counselling after the event.

The university graduate who holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies told the Observer that even though she is still in the healing process, she has been reaching out to individuals who have had similar experiences.

“I was blessed to have people in my life that cared. Not many have that and therefore greater effort should be made to counsel children with such traumatic experiences,” she noted.

No one was ever held for the killings.

Yesterday, associate counselling psychologist Rosemarie Voordouw, chair of the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych) said it is not uncommon for adults who saw violence as children to experience “a lot of sadness”.

“There's often, a lot of guilt – survivor guilt – especially in cases where whole families are killed, and a child was away so they self-blame. There is survivor guilt and they carry it for a long time. There is unresolved anger as well. Some persons may just be withdrawn and fearful, and they go through life being fearful. It is complex,” she pointed out.

Associate clinical psychologist Deborah Smith said, for children who have had such experiences nightmares and flashbacks, which may happen anytime are common.

“The triggers normally have to do with something that they hear, smell, or even something they may be eating. They will completely shut down during flashbacks, like they are not present, they have gone back to the incident, and they will complain also of having an impending sense of doom all the time,” she outlined adding that such children will “even start to avoid places and persons that will remind them of the event”.

“You will have persons complaining after an event that the child is misbehaving, but it is just that the child is angry. The child doesn't know what triggered that intense feeling. They are not sure why they are acting out. The worst part is that some children will start to exhibit self-injuring tendencies meaning they will either start cutting themselves or they may become suicidal. This is all a response to the traumatic event they have had,” she shared further. She said some children might even regress to, for example, bed-wetting and experience headaches or abdominal pains, all tied to the traumatic event they had.

“This won't happen to all children, they might just experience the fear or avoidance of the area and after a couple of weeks they are ok,” she stated.

“For a child like that, the most important thing is to make the child feel safe. So whether it is with a relative that they trust or another individual if the child doesn't feel safe they will not be willing to express how they feel and based on the reactions you are seeing from the child it is best they get some form of counseling.

“It doesn't matter if it's an adult, a child, or a teenager, the feeling of safety is very important because once you are exposed to a life-threatening situation you are going to feel unsafe and like you are in danger all the time,” the associate clinical psychologist pointed out .

“Don't be afraid to seek help from mental health professionals, we are here to help whether a counsellor or psychologist or psychiatrist, please don't be afraid to come to us,” Smith appealed.


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