Some children at Beulah All-Age School suffered fainting spells on hearing that two of their schoolmates — 10-year old Shemari Smith and her five-year-old sister Kafana — were among the family of five whose bodies were found with their throats cut Tuesday morning at their home at Coco Piece, a quiet community in Chapelton, Clarendon.
Principal Nadine Gayle Little said the tragedy is having an overwhelming impact on students and administrators. In fact, the school postponed the second day of end-of-year examinations.
“We saw our students fainting one after the other... asthmatic attacks, panic attacks. We had to be giving first aid, we had to be physically supporting them. Their legs just would not sustain them,” Gayle Little told the Jamaica Observer, hours after news of the savagery emerged.
“I am impressed also that as young as the children are, especially at the grades four, five, and six levels,we could see the students taking on the adult role of supporting each other, ” Gayle Little told journalists shortly after a prayer session with representatives from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, education ministry, Child Protection and Family Services Agency, and educators from other schools.
“Some had to be fanning, some had to be holding up others, even while they were sitting on a chair, because they were overwhelmed with grief. The babies, too, were traumatised. There was just a ripple effect, one after the other,” she added.
The other deceased have been identified as siblings 15-year-old Kimana Smith; 23-month-old Kishaun Henry, and the mother of the children, said to be in her 30s, Kemisha Wright.
According to Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, who was at the scene, about 7:50 am police were alerted that a family member went to the house and found the mother and her children dead.
“The team immediately went down there to see what was happening because this is unusual for this community. This is not a place where you have a lot of violence in Clarendon,” he said, noting that the five appeared to have been killed with sharp implements.
The constabulary’s information arm, the Corporate Communications Unit, named 23-year-old Rushane Barnett, otherwise called Jett or Nick, as a person of interest in the matter.
Barnett, the police said, is known to frequent Coco Piece, Wilson Run, Trelawny, and Papine in St Andrew.
The murders resulted in a heavy build-up of traffic in the community, which was not cleared until midday as commuters, residents, and family members looked on in sadness.
Loud cries were heard from the crowd each time one of the bodies was removed from the house by undertakers.
The father of the 23-month-old, who is also a soldier, was observed being consoled by his colleagues, while Kemisha’s mother, Gwendolyn Wright McKnight, cried profusely.
“Everybody dead inna the house… mi one daughter, mi grandchildren… mi cyaan manage it,” Wright McKnight cried repeatedly, as she was comforted by Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams.
The education minister expressed shock at the incident.
“I’m speechless; I am without words right now as to what happened here this morning. How could anyone contemplate killing four children and a mother, including a baby?” she said.
“The whole community is in mourning. I was with the mother for a while, and once I got here, her grief and her sorrow — you could feel it. It is horrible. This is not the Jamaica that we want and we have to send a very strong, strong message to those who contemplate and then do these brutal acts on our children,” she said.
The children’s uncle, who had discovered their bodies about 7:30 am, said: “Fi tell yuh the truth, mi just know mi go in and stumble pon some bodies — mi likkle nieces and nephew. I didn’t even see the mother because she did under the bed.”
The great grand uncle of the 23-month-old told the Observer that he was in shock.
“Mi out here from morning. Mi cyaan even cry. Such a nice little boy. When him see mi him always bump my fist,” he said.
Kemisha’s brother, 32-year-old Oral O’Brian Riley, said he had heard that the the man being sought by the police was upset with his sister about an issue.
Residents described Kemisha, who was affectionately called Redz, and the children as good people.
“Mi bawl, mi bawl, mi bawl from mi yard come straight round here. She [Kemisha] usually work with my niece. She is a very nice lady, as you say ‘Redz’ she just a laugh,” one resident told the Observer.
Another said, “The mother was a good girl. Her children are really bright, so ambitious, was looking forward to them to be nurse and doctor.”