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Irwin High mourns 12-year-old student killed in fire

BY HORACE HINES
Observer staff reporter
hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 22, 2021

MONTEGO BAY St James – The Irwin High School fraternity has been mourning the death of seventh grade student Hemmecia Greenwood, who perished in a fire that destroyed her grandparents' home at Potosi Drive in John's Hall, Monday afternoon.

Irwin High Principal Victor Newsome, accompanied by the school's guidance counsellor and an education officer from the Ministry of Education Region Four, on Tuesday visited the burnt house where family and community members gathered as they mourn the loss of the promising student.

“Unfortunately, because of online school we only got the opportunity to interact with her online but her loss has been very devastating, not only to her classmates but to the academic staff as well,” the Irwin High School principal told reporters.

He added: “A number of our teachers have been interacting with her, and, from information they would have shared with myself and the guidance counsellor, who is also here, she has been a very active participant in class. She is a very hard-working, committed student. She is always present for her classes and she worked very hard.”

According to Hemmecia's grandfather, Hopeton Coates, the Irwin High student, her two siblings and one of her cousins were studying online when there was a disruption in the power supply so they went outside to play.

Hemmecia, however, complained of having an headache and returned inside the house to sleep when the fire started.

“I was home taking a nap. When I awoke the whole structure was engulfed in flames. I rushed out and made an alarm and then I recollected that the kids were at the back of the house playing. Waking out of my sleep, my first [instinct] was to get out of the house. But I didn't realised that she had stopped playing with them and, based on what they said, she said that she had a headache and went into the room to sleep,”said the grandfather.

He said that attempts made to rescue her proved futile as the house was quickly consumed by the flames.

“I couldn't go back inside... the entire house was engulfed [with flames]...other persons came tried to go in...we just couldn't go inside. After the cooling down operation we realised that she was inside there,” the grandfather said, breaking down in tears.

Hemmecia's mother, Marissa Vernon, who lives in the the nearby Willaimsfield, explained that since the halting of face-to-face classes, each day, before leaving for work, she leaves her three children with their grandparents, who live in the Potosi area of the community, because she does not want them to be by themselves.

She described Hemmecia as a well-behaved child.

“... She was a wonderful child, the best. The only thing you could curse her for is to sleep. A no pickney that give you talking,” said a grieving Vernon, who had to be constantly consoled by family members.

The child's grandmother, Paulette Coates, chimed in: “She is a jovial child. When you see her smile it puts a smile on your face.”

The Irwin High School principal, meanwhile, said Hemmecia was “very polite and she acted very mannerly”.

“Definitely we have lost a great student, we have lost a student we were looking to for the future to better this society and we mourn with the family. The Irwin High School family and the Ministry of Education Region Four mourn with the family and we are here to give our support and to let them know that we will continue to offer the support to them and for them to stay strong as we go through this very difficult time,” said Newsome.

The Freeport Fire Station reported that at about 3:07 pm on Monday a call was received that a house was on fire on Potosi Drive in the John's Hall community.

“Upon arrival the house was fully engulfed in flames and after cooling down operations the charred remains of the 12- year-old girl was found in the rubble,” the fire brigade spokesman said.

The cause of the blaze was not ascertained.