COMFORT CASTLE, Portland - Principal of Comfort Castle Primary and Infant School, Dalmain Moore has trouble sleeping.
He keeps going over his last moments with eight-year-old Vinice "Sunshine" Burke. But the pleasant memories of that encounter, as he joked with her and other students at the Portland school, are being eroded by her mysterious death hours later.
"The teachers are very distraught over the situation and as principal and the person who last interacted with her from the school, it has affected me terribly, to the point where I now have difficulty sleeping," he told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday during a visit to the school.
He said little Vinice was among a group of children he gave a ride home on Friday after he treated them to patties left over from the school's supply. Later that night, he got news he never expected or wanted to hear.
"Some minutes after 10, thereabout, I got a call from a parent who now resides in Antigua who said the child died. I couldn't understand, I said, 'What you talking about? I brought that child down today and she was quite okay'," Moore said as he fought back tears that threatened to spill down his face.
"She was not sick; I could not understand, I really couldn't. It hit me very hard and so I took my phone and made some calls and did some enquiries and I found out that the child was found dead at home. I honestly don't know if I can get past this so easily as I was the last person from the school to have interacted with the child before she died. Not only that, the gruesome nature of the death as well; I really don't know if it is an accident or if it a case of murder," the principal added.
According to Observer sources, the child was at her house last Friday when the incident occurred. It is alleged that her stepfather said he and another man were at the front of the yard making a bed head, when he saw Vinice outside without shoes. She had a plastic bag in her hand. According to the stepdad, he sent the girl back inside the house to put on her shoes.
It was reported that when he did not hear from Vinice, he went to check and saw the girl lying on the floor, unresponsive. The plastic bag was over her face and there was a pool of urine near her body. He reportedly made checks inside the house but did not see anyone. He took the child to the Port Antonio Hospital where she was pronounced dead about 6:30 pm.
On Monday, a special devotion was held in Vinice's memory but a number of students were not in school because of heavy rain that caused landslides and flooding. Moore is hoping counsellors from the education ministry, whose visit was also derailed on Monday, will be there before the end of the week.
Among those who will likely benefit from their support is Vinice's teacher Keila Morsby. On Tuesday she was still struggling to come to grips with the child's death.
"Sunshine was a very radiant and lively child, just as her name suggests. She was loving, a friend to everyone and a good student as she tried her best," said the grade three teacher.
"We had a short session with the students yesterday; today a teacher is having a session with them, getting the feelings out and everything. We have students, family members and teachers crying. We are all friends; it's a small school and we walk together, travel together and play together," Morsby added.
Her initial reaction to the news of Vinice's death, she said, had been disbelief.
The last thing the child excitedly told her, she said, was that she would be going to spend time with her mother.
Later that evening, Morsby said an acquaintance sent a picture of Vinice to her phone and asked if she knew her.
"I said, 'Yes, she's in my class and came to school today'. The person said, 'She's dead'," the teacher recalled.
She refused to believe, clinging to the fact that Vinice had been "at school today and she was okay".
"I wasn't even thinking about foul play or anything like that. It was very shocking and I said to myself, 'I don't believe this but if Monday comes and I look on the bus and she's not there well then it is true'. When I came on the bus I looked around and I didn't see her. I started to cry and that was it. It's not been easy for us here," said Morse.
Vinice turned eight years old in July.
A police investigation into her death continues.