MONTEGO BAY, St James — The chilling scene of a fellow congregant's throat being slashed sent one woman scurrying from Pathway International Kingdom Restoration Ministries in Albion, St James, Sunday night. The woman, who asked not to be identified by name, said she was about to join her son and daughter inside when she witnessed the barbaric killing.
“I was outside waiting to go in… when I saw the lady's throat being slashed; I made my decision to leave,” she told the Jamaica Observer as she hurriedly removed two bags containing her personal items from in front of the premises' gate yesterday afternoon.
“It was very intense. When I saw blood and the young lady fell, I said 'This is it for me,' and I walked away; I could not stay, I couldn't. What pushed me away, as a matter of fact, when I started to put one and one together, I saw two lady church members jump the fence, so I said, 'No, this can't be right,' and those two were normally close to [the pastor],” the woman continued.
Having obeyed the pastor's request to leave cellphones at home before attending what was supposed to be a three-day convention, she said, she had to “beg a call” from a resident of the community to ask for a ride home. She also helped another church member, an 18-year-old female, to get a ride away from the location, she said.
“The police and the soldiers were telling the others to go, but they were still standing up. But I… made a phone call and walked down to the road to wait,” she said.
Sunday night's bizarre stand-off between members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and some members of Pathway International left three people dead and another three nursing stab wounds after police acted on intelligence to prevent acts of human sacrifice.
However, another female congregant with whom the Observer spoke as she walked towards the direction of the church yesterday said the plan, as she understood it, was for members to have a three-day convention.
Clad in all-white, she said she was unaware of Sunday's night events because she was having phone troubles. She had travelled from the community of Lilliput to attend the worship session.
“This is not a Yahweh church, it is a Pentecostal church. It is just a regular church that I became a member of,” she said.
She was visibly shocked at the heavy police presence at the premises. After being briefed, she denied any knowledge of the allegations of human sacrifice.
“I know him as a prophet, I don't know anything else. Because I live so far I don't really know what is going on. I came on Saturday and I left yesterday morning so I came back today. I really don't know what is going on,” she said.
The woman claimed that the pastor's many Facebook messages instructing his congregants to leave their phones at home, and to ensure the “ark” doesn't leave them, was “normal”.
She said that the animals seen around the premises and are also alleged to be inside the building were destined to be in the pastor's “ark”.
Sources told the Observer that the building contains a lot of “valuable items” along with a wide variety of perishable food and livestock. There is also a room designed to resemble an ark and many cellars filled with more food items, one source said.
Inside the building yesterday, alongside bloodstains that were a vivid reminder of what took place Sunday, were several phones wrapped in aluminium foil and bags with personal items for many of the congregants.
On its Facebook page Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries of Montego Bay states that Bishop Dr Kevin Ontoniel Smith is a “highly distinguished Jamaican-born child prodigy, entrepreneur and globe traveller to over 94 countries worldwide”.
It also states that his “extraordinary achievements” have “made him a respectable and recognisable global influential force and world leader in and throughout Christendom and the corporate sphere; all accomplished under the age of 30”.
Yesterday, Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson, who was at the premises, told reporters that the police were alerted after a female member of the congregation showed up at hospital with stab wounds.
“A congregant here, a member of this church who had been injured — apparently when she chose to disobey some instructions given to her by the leaders of this organisation — reported to the police that she had been injured and other information that led us to believe that the persons here were at risk,” said Anderson.
The police, he said, responded quickly but were met by gunfire from a member of the congregation at the premises.
“The first team of police that arrived was shot at, and so they waited on reinforcements to come. We were very concerned that some form of ritualised killing was going to take place here and so we did an entry last night. We found that there were a couple of people who had been injured by other members of the church,” the police commissioner added.
Anderson confirmed that lawmen had been suspicious about the facility for a while, and lauded senior superintendent of police for the St James Police Division Vernon Ellis and his team for their work.
“They have been on the radar, but not necessarily specifically about what happened [Sunday]. But as soon as it came to our attention we responded based on what we saw. I think it was really good and kudos to Senior Superintendent Vernon Ellis and his team that they took it seriously and moved in the way they did to get this matter resolved. Otherwise we could have perhaps had more persons killed,” said Anderson.
Two members of the congregation were killed in what is alleged to be human sacrifice, while another member was killed during the confrontation with the police.
Forty-two members of the congregation are currently in police custody and 14 children are in the care of the State, the police commissioner told reporters.
“I am concerned about anything like this. Hopefully it is not the start of a wave of it. I don't see any sign of that, but, of course, it is a cause of concern,” he said.
For his part, Dr Horace Chang, minister of national security and member of parliament for the St James North Western constituency in which the church is located, lauded the police for their response.
“As indicated by the commissioner, if the police had not intervened last night after the lady who was injured came to the police… we could have had far more serious incidents last night,” he said.
He noted that after Sunday's stand-off, the organisation can now be forced shut, but before, even with suspicions, nothing could have been done by the police.
“Prior to that, it is a question of how you intervene. The whole question of their right to assembly, gather, and the right to religion is raised and it is something that we will have to look at, but from my understanding of the current legislation and the constitution it will be difficult to do anything to stop the events happening,” he said.
“It is just some good fortune that one lady — I suspect seeing the trauma of the events she was witnessing — broke the cycle… She came out and reported what was happening. But the reality is, a number of these things happen and may be happening, but the police can do very little until something changes,” he added.