Every time Peter Wright and Gwendolyn Wright McKnight close their eyes to sleep they see images of their daughter and grandchildren whose butchered bodies were found in their house in Coco Piece, Clarendon, on the morning of June 21, 2022.
The grieving parents spoke with the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday night as family and friends gathered at the house for the traditional nine-day funerary activities in memory of 31-year-old Kimesha Wright, a practical nursing student, and her children, 15-year-old Kimanda Smith, 10-year-old Shara-Lee Smith, five-year-old Rafaella Smith, and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry, whose throats were cut.
“Can’t sleep. As mi shut mi eye a dem mi a look pon. Even last Wednesday night [June 22] mi can naturally hear the baby a cry. I’ve been drinking, crying, those things help ease the pressure off me,” said Kimesha’s father Peter, his head hung low, seemingly reflecting on the savagery.
“It kinda rough, ennu, but mi just haffi take it easy because it happen already. But mi glad the law a take its course, so we have to just leave it in their hands,” he added.
His reference was to the fact that the man accused of killing the family, Rushane Barnett, has been charged and, on being taken before the Home Circuit Court on Tuesday, was served with a death penalty notice by Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn.
The slain woman’s mother admitted that she, too, was having a difficult time coping with her loss.
“I cannot say I rest like I’d normally do, because every time I close my eyes I see my daughter and grandchildren in front of me. So I would jump out my sleep and get up and read a Psalms or so to cope,” Wright McKnight told the Observer.
Despite their grief, the parents were able to share fond memories of their daughter and grandchildren.
The father said he shared a tight-knit bond with his daughter.
“She was everything [to me] because mi raise her from she a three months old. That time we were living in Old Harbour Bay and mi wash her hair, plait her hair, carry her to school, everything. Up to when she turn 31-year-old mi visiting her and mi grand kids dem same way. Mi nuh lef dem out,” he said.
Wright McKnight reminisced on the last fun moment spent with her granddaughter Rafaella, who she affectionately refers to as Rafi.
“Rafi was dancing for me and said, ‘Mama, you know I want to be a model’. She always entertains me and if I’m not looking on her she would say ‘Mama, you not paying me attention, you not clapping,’ and she will get vex and go one side. And I would say, ‘Okay, go again, I’m going to clap this time’,” the mother said.
“The Monday [before the killings] I called my daughter on the phone and talked to her and one of my grandchildren, Kimanda, and now this,” Wright McKnight said, shaking her head in seeming disbelief.
Flickering candles lined both sides of the street leading to the house, a show of mourning and respect for the slain family whose images were printed on buttons and customised T-shirts worn by mourners.
Eighteen-year-old Ashanti Wright couldn’t hold back her tears as she shared with the Observer that her slain sister, Kimesha was a caring person.
“I’m depressed. She was a really great sister. She used to give me snacks when I didn’t have any to go to school. She used to give my mom stuff because my mom never really have it,” she said while drying her tears to regain composure.
Kimesha’s elderly neighbour Gwendolyn Edwards was on the brink of tears.
“Mi always keep her house key when she leave. When dem call mi and tell me say everybody dead, mi bawl out and from dat mi nuh stop bawl. People pray fi me, Lord have mercy. All tonight mi cyaan sleep,” the 87-year-old woman said.
On Tuesday, Llewellyn explained that she served the death penalty notice, as well as a voluntary bill of indictment against Barnett after carefully considering the allegations disclosed in the evidentiary material gathered so far, the law, and public interest in the gruesome murders.
The death penalty notice has since elicited mixed responses from political and church leaders, human rights groups, as well as Jamaicans in general.
People who were present at the candlelight vigil also weighed in on the matter.
“I honestly believe this was a gruesome act, and to just give him a sentence where he is going to be there eating taxpayers’ money I don’t think it would be fair to us as citizens, because he has no heart. We need to treat him as how he treated these people,” said Rosemary Henningham.
A resident, who only gave her name as Micky, added: “It [death penalty notice] pleases everybody, but him shoulda dead already. He is a wicked man.”
On Tuesday evening, Wright McKnight had told the Observer that Barnett should die a slow death.
“It will not bring them back, ennuh, but at least I will get a satisfaction... him fi die slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly; and when him a die him fi remember mi kids dem,” Wright McKnight said.