213 DAYS OF TEARS
Mother of 4-year-old boy who died after allegedly being locked in teacher's car struggling to cope as she seeks closure
A weeping Abigail Beckford (left) and her mother Paula Downer sharing with the Sunday Observer how they are struggling to cope since the death of four-year-old Jordane Clarke some seven months ago. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

IT has been 213 days since Abigail Beckford received the devastating news that her four-year-old son Jordane Clarke, had died after allegedly being left in a car for hours at his school, and Beckford has shed tears for her child every one of those 213 days.

But, by far, the day Beckford shed the most tears was last Monday, September 19, when Jordane, her only child, would have celebrated his fifth birthday.

"On Monday it was like I relived the day that he died," the 22-year-old Beckford told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday with loud sobs punctuating every word.

She noted that the day Jordane died his school was celebrating Jamaica Day. Now, anything that reminds her of the day leads to more heartbreak.

"Just seeing the constant Jamaica colours all over the place makes me break down. Even September morning, seeing all the children going to school and he was not here to go to school, it hurt me.

"Sometimes I am at work and I do the same thing five times. Sometimes at work I am doing the wrong thing and I have to catch up back myself. Sometimes I literally feel like I'm going crazy. Sometimes I feel like I should just end it," declared Beckford, her voice cracking as the tears streamed down her face.

Initial reports were that on February 24 a teacher at Destowe Bennett Basic School in east Kingston took Jordane and three other students to school. According to the reports, while the other students exited the vehicle, Jordane did not.

There is no explanation yet as to why Jordane did not leave the vehicle, or why he was not missed by his class teacher during the morning roll call or during the distribution of lunch, which his parents had paid for.

Several hours after they arrived at the school the teacher reportedly went back to the car and found the child unconscious. He was taken to Bustamante Hospital for Children where he was pronounced dead.

With several questions surrounding the sequence of events, Beckford was hoping to have answers by now but, instead, she was given a burial order with the cause of death listed as "pending blood result".

"I have reached out to the children's advocate, Hear the Children's Cry, the Early Childhood Commission, and the police who are doing the investigation to see what's going on. They [the police] say that they are working, but I haven't seen any result as yet because until today I still don't know what killed my child, how my child died. I still haven't received the post-mortem result or the toxicology result.

"Each time I reach out to these people they are saying there is still no result, still no result, and it has been seven months since my child died. He is gone and no justice as yet. It is really, really heartbreaking," declared Beckford.

Abigail's mother, Paula Downer, is also struggling with hypertension as she deals with the death of her grandson.

Her grief is compounded by the fact that she normally took Jordane to school each morning before the teacher offered to take him in her car.

Downer struggled to get out the words on Thursday as she lamented the failure of the authorities to provide the family with information.

"They have done nothing for us…they just have mi grandson dead and leave it like that. We sent him to school and..." Downer declared becoming inaudible as she cried loudly.

But King's Counsel Peter Champagnie, who is watching the case on behalf of the family, free of cost, told the Sunday Observer that he has been in constant contact with the police, who have been giving updates which he has shared with the family.

"I understand the anxiety of the family, however, based on the information that I received in writing and recent discussions with the senior investigator I gather that the matter is at a very delicate stage and that there is a situation where they are awaiting a forensic report which would speak to some issues that they need resolved.

"I spoke to the officer and that was what was represented to me, and I know that when it comes to getting information, in terms of certificates from the forensic lab it is sometimes a challenge because it is just one lab, and they are overloaded in terms of cases," said Champagnie.

"But having said that, I am very optimistic and the police so far have been very cooperative in my enquires on behalf of my client," added Champagnie.

It was a similar story from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) which, in a written response to questions from the Sunday Observer, said that the probe is being overseen at the level of the east Kingston divisional commander Superintendent Tommilee Chambers, "who has gone above and beyond to support the probe.

"This is a case that is very emotionally charged. These investigations take a toll on the policemen and women who go out every day seeking to bring justice and closure for families.

"This particular investigation is ongoing. We are awaiting reports from the forensic laboratory that are crucial to the probe moving forward. As such, there isn't much more that we can share publicly", said the JCF.

"When a mother loses her only child, the pain is unbearable. We know that the cycle of grief is particularly painful and that's why we continue to be there for her in all the ways we can," added the JCF as it pointed out that its Community Safety and Security (CSS) team has given the family critical support in a number of ways and maintained regular contact with the child's mother.

In the meantime, Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison told the Sunday Observer that her office has also taken a keen interest in the case.

"From day one we have actively expressed an interest in the matter. We have made contact with the family. in fact, we have collected a statement recording all material details from the mother and we have had discussions with the police who are at the forefront of this investigation because a life has been lost and that could result in criminal charges and, of course, there are other legal ramifications that could arise in terms of a civil suit if there is basis to support such a claim," said Gordon Harrison.

"In fact, up to last week one of our investigators was at the school having dialogue with the principal, looking to review records and so on, which we do know were turned over to the police in their investigation.

"I think, perhaps, given the anxiety that the mother is feeling, she is very concerned, which I can empathise with as a mother, but, in terms of practically and processing the matter, the police have provided updates.

"The Office of the Children's Advocate has also been in contact with all the parties and I know that defence counsel who represents the family's interest has also been keeping the dialogue open," stated Gordon Harrison.

The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has also indicated that it has provided support to Jordane's family.

According to the CPFSA, following the death of Jordane, a team of its officers met with the family at their home, including his maternal grandmother, mother, and father, to provide psycho-social support and initiate grief counselling.

"The family was also referred to the Victim Services Division (Ministry of Justice) for further psychological support and advised that they could access additional psycho-social support through the agency's Children and Family Support Unit.

"A team from the CPFSA as well as the Victim Services Division also engaged with teachers and students in grief and loss counselling sessions at the school… where Jordane was a student," said the agency in response to questions from the Sunday Observer.

Jordane Clarke who would have celebrated his fifth birthday last Monday. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)
Arthur Hall

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