NIGHT OF TERROR
Mom recalls being abducted with her daughters, forced to watch as three gunmen rape them

All through the tense drive that dark night, she thought that she and her two daughters would be killed and dumped by the three gunmen who had kidnapped them after church.

But while the women were not murdered, what the criminals did to them was akin to death, if not worse.

"I was coming from church; I didn't expect that. They came upon us so sudden. The way they do it, to me it was planned; I realise it was planned. In the midst of them holding us up at gunpoint I was traumatised, but as a Christian I was telling the guys 'Why you have to do this, take what you want and let us out,' but they refused," the St Catherine mother told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

The woman said while ignoring her pleas that they take their earthly possessions and release them, the three men, one of whom has since been held and is awaiting sentencing, also quieted her attempts to call on God for help.

"One of them was saying 'If yuh say it one more time, if you call it one more time'. I realise something about criminal rapists, they hype up themselves with drugs. I figure that they were high, the one they held on to [Everton Bennett who was tried in the Gun Court earlier this month], him in him right mind, but to me it seems like he smoked before [the incident]. The next two were giving me argument, some wicked argument too," she told the Sunday Observer.

"When they drive and turn in the bushes I say 'God, yuh a go mek dem kill mi, yuh a go mek dem kill mi pickney?' And mi a say 'God yuh haffi deliver mi and mi pickney tonight.' I was saying 'God, is this the way you are going to end it because you have spoken so much words over us and we don't see the manifestation yet, so what is this happening?'" the still hurting mother told the Sunday Observer more than a year and a half after the dreadful ordeal.

Moments later, the kidnappers' car now her prison, she watched helplessly, almost mute, as the three criminals, their plan fully on display, took turns raping her two daughters — her only offspring.

"They took them outside and all of that. They threatened me at gunpoint not to come out of the car; and for a mother sitting and watching I am telling you, it is an experience, is not like something you used to, you didn't see it on a shelf and say pick it up. It wasn't a good sight to sit and watch that before you, you feel like your whole life just shatter," she said searching for words to describe the scene still trapped in her memory.

"A lot of things was going through my head as a mother. I was just remembering all that God had promised us in the midst of all those acts. I couldn't scream out, I couldn't shout out 'Thief!' 'Murder!', none of that," she said of the torturous experience.

She said the gunmen, after finishing their callous act, returned with her daughters to the vehicle and released them some distance away. That release, she said, was also laced with terror.

"When they let us off, I think they were going to shoot us. He [Bennett] told us to run and not look back, with the gun in his hand. It was traumatising, it shake me in a way that I don't know. I don't know how I'm still [sane]. A God a keep mi," she told this reporter.

Fuelled by survival instincts, they fled into the night and into the hands of a good Samaritan who assisted them to the police.

The memory of that night, however, still haunts the mother, who said her daughters became Christians because of her witness while they were in high school.

Asked what she said to them about that night, the mother said, "Mi nah tell no lie, mi tell them say God have that battle and what the enemy did he is going to pay, he has to pay. Whether God allowed it to happen or not, they still going to pay for it".

As for her, "I forgive them, but it tek a while for me to forgive them. It not a easy thing to get over. It mess up minds, it mess up lives, it mess up your going in and coming out. It mess up the Church, it shake the Church because a nuh normal situation and it not easy to deal with," she said.

Her faith in God, she said, has not been lessened.

The mother, who since that incident has met other girls younger than her daughters who have been molested in a similar way, said she has shared words of encouragement with them from a place of understanding brought on by the experience.

She, in the meantime, confessed that she has mixed feelings about Bennett's guilty plea.

"When I heard he pleaded guilty I wasn't hundred per cent satisfied, I was looking for him to bring down the next two. I don't know if they are alive out there doing the same thing," she told the Sunday Observer.

Bennett, who was the main aggressor in the matter, pleaded guilty to a 17-count indictment charging him with multiple counts of rape, forcible abduction, robbery with aggravation and illegal possession of firearm in relation to the two young women and another two females. He is to be sentenced on December 15.

The court was told that, between February 8 and 10, 2021, Bennett and other men travelling in a silver Toyota Axio motor car, and armed with handguns, forcibly abducted the women in the Bog Walk, Point Hill, and Spanish Town areas of St Catherine.

The men robbed the women of their property and then raped them.

One of the victims memorised the registration plate of the vehicle and an investigation was launched by the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse in St Catherine North, which led to Bennett's arrest.

Prosecutors are hoping that Bennett, who pleaded guilty under a plea agreement, will be sentenced to no less than 21 years at hard labour. One investigator with whom the Sunday Observer spoke said similar offences had been carried out by the men, affecting several other women who, for several reasons, did not press charges.

Speaking of her willingness and that of her daughters to see the case through to the end, the mother said, "Mi decide me a go forward; mi nah let no fear grip mi. Maybe other young girls it happened to them, and they cannot speak about it, but we are the ones who are going to speak out. I said, 'God, you can't have them out there targeting other young girls.' When I look and see how much other persons, plus some don't report, it's like you put on an event like a stage show and it is happening over and over. God haffi shut him dung."

The prosecution, led by attorney Hodine Williams, had planned on calling 19 witnesses had the matter gone to trial. Forensic evidence in addition to the testimonies of the women helped sink Bennett who, in August 2020, had reported that his motor vehicle had been stolen and voluntarily gave a DNA sample to the police. After the forensics lab completed its analyses of samples related to the four women, Bennett was confirmed to be the source of the male DNA found in the semen obtained from the SAFE kit concerning the respective complainants.

Bennett was represented by attorney-at-law Alexander Shaw.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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