Jan 25, 2009 News
“Sometimes, when I go to bed, I get scared. Anytime I hear the zinc make a sound in the night, I would panic. I still don’t feel safe.” Shazeda Khan.
By Dale Andrews
If anyone had not known of a place called Lusignan, they certainly do now. The events of January 26, 2008 certainly made the village a household name, for all the wrong reasons.
On that day, a gang of gunmen unleashed almost 15 minutes of such savagery that even the atrocities of the early 1950s appear to pale in comparison.
Eleven persons, including children, were slaughtered in their beds by gunmen carrying shotguns and the deadly AK-47 assault rifles.
So graphic were the scenes that day that the entire country was plunged into a state of shock.
To date, no one knows for sure the real motive for the attack, although it was reported that the now dead notorious killer Rondell ‘Fine Man’ Rawlins had claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring it an act of vengeance for the disappearance of his girlfriend and unborn baby.
The gunmen struck at around 01:30 hours early on that Saturday, simultaneously kicking down the doors of five houses and slaughtering almost everyone they encountered.
Three persons were also injured, while at least three persons escaped certain death by hiding, as the gunmen carried out their rampage.
In 15 minutes of terror, the gunmen, who numbered approximately 20, all armed with rifles and shotguns, massacred their victims, in one case an entire family comprising a mother and her two sleeping children.
Among the dead were Shazam Mohamed; Clarence Thomas, his son, Ron 11, and daughter, Vanessa 12; Mohandai Gourdat, 32, and her two children, Seegobin, four years old, and Seegopaul Harilall, 10; Shalem Baksh, 52; Rooplall Seecharan, 56, his daughter Raywattie Ramsingh, 11, and his wife, Dhanrajie, called ‘Sister’, 52.
The injured were Howard Thomas 19; Nadir Mohamed, 48, and Roberto Thomas, five years old.
Most of the dead victims were shot in their stomachs, and were left lying in pools of blood which covered most of the floors of their modest homes.
Some of the survivors still have the scars that are stark reminders of the brutality and terror they endured.
One year later, while the village has returned to some level of normalcy, the memories of that fateful day in 2008 will never go away.
Families of the victims have already done their “memorial work”, and in the midst of it all is a feeling of oneness, as every villager feels the loss in some way or the other.
Fourteen-year-old Shazeda Baksh is thankful that her father, Shalim, gave his life to save those of the rest of his family.
Shalem Baksh was pulled from under a bed where he, his wife Bibi and daughter were hiding, and was shot dead.
Shazeda recalls that she was in her bed when she heard the gunshots.
She had called out to her mother, who was with her father downstairs, and her parents, who had also heard the shots, joined her on the upper flat of their house.
The men ordered the family to open their door, but the family was too terrified to make another move.
Within seconds, their front louvre windows were shattered and some of the men entered.
“I went into the last room and we hid under the bed. My mother first, me, and then my father. He was so big that he did not fit comfortably under the bed. When they (gunmen) came in, they saw his foot and told him to come out. They asked for the rest of us and he told them that we were downstairs,” Shazeda said.
The gunmen went downstairs and sprayed the apartment with bullets before returning upstairs.
When the killers put the first bullet into her father’s body, which was lying inches away from her, Shazeda could see his body twitching as the slugs penetrated his flesh.
Her father had begged the killers to spare his life, but after pumping him with bullets, they fired several shots under the bed, none of which found the intended target.
“While I was under the bed, I knew they would kill my father. After they left, my father was trying to say something but no words came out of his mouth. He came out (from under the bed) and saved us all. If he didn’t, they would have checked under the bed and found us and kill us,” Shazeda said.
No one would doubt her theory, since another survivor recalled hearing the men being instructed to ‘kill everybody’.
Shazeda is a fourth form student preparing to write her CXC examinations next year. She admitted that it would be a stressful period for her.
“Mommy still cries a lot, and sometimes I cry, too. My friends at school try not to mention it,” she said.
“Sometimes, when I go to bed, I get scared. Anytime I hear the zinc make a sound in the night, I would panic. I still don’t feel safe,” Shazeda Khan told this newspaper.
Throughout the year, Gowmattie Thomas has been trying to put her life back together.
Her house was the first in the Lusignan Pasture to be attacked.
She lost her husband, Clarence; son, Ron, 11, and daughter, Vanessa, 12.
Thomas’s two sons, 20-year-old Howard and six-year-old Roberto, were wounded during the attack, and the scars are clearly visible.
There are reports that one of her sons, who had gone into the yard to urinate, had seen when the gunmen arrived in a minibus.
After hearing the orders to ‘spread out and kill everybody,’ he had hurried back upstairs to warn the rest of the household, but the gunmen were already swarming the place.
Gaumattie Thomas did not see what was taking place on that dreadful night, but was listening keenly from her hiding place in the house.
Her husband, Clarence, tried to push in the door even as the killers were trying to enter the house.
However, the gunmen overpowered him and forced their way into the house, shooting the 52-year-old man dead in the process. His body was left lying on the landing atop the stairs.
“I was just hiding in the corner. Ow, ah couldn’t talk, ah couldn’t do nothing! They did not see me. Then they say, ‘Watch two more deh on de bed. Kill dem! Kill dem!’” Mrs. Thomas had told this newspaper.
She said that the men shot her sleeping son, Ron, and they then snatched her daughter Vanessa from her bed; and although she screamed and begged for her life, she, too, was cold bloodedly gunned down.
Another son, Howard, received a bullet and fell off his bed, a move that certainly saved his life.
She said that maybe if the men had discovered where the switch for the light in the house was, the entire family would have been slaughtered.
“We went to bed, and nothing in our wildest dream prepared us for what was to happen. Just how they sleep, that is how I saw them killed,” she recalled.
So far, the year has been a very emotional one.
Howard Thomas, who survived several bullet wounds and spent about six weeks in hospital, will live with those scars for the rest of his life.
But although he was badly wounded, he was not thinking about death while lying on his hospital bed.
“I was just wondering if we had done anything wrong to anyone for this to happen to us. The men just come and say, ‘Kill everybody’. It would appear like if they run out of ammo and the driver of the vehicle was telling them it was time to go. I feel they would have killed more people if that did not happen,” he opined.
For him, the trauma will remain for a long time.
“Every time I look at my injuries, it takes me right back to that night,” he added.
Sometimes he would be thinking that it was still not over, and although those reportedly responsible have been neutralized, he still gets the feeling that the killers would return to the community some day.
He noted that the promised heightened security that followed the massacre has been relaxed now.
“I get nightmares. Two nights ago, my brother told me that I was screaming in my sleep. Although they (killers) are dead, I still feel scared,” the 20-year-old survivor told Kaieteur News.
He recalled that, on the night of the massacre, he had called the police 911 number. “That was a waste of time!” he lamented.
His six-year-old brother, Roberto, has his body covered with the scars of several pellets and slug wounds.
Although he was observed playing in the yard when this newspaper visited last Friday, he was not too young to have grasped what transpired.
“While in hospital, I was not thinking about myself. I was thinking about Roberto, because he was more serious (wounded),” Howard Thomas stated.
The family now has a small poultry operation, but nothing could really take away the memories of January 26, 2008.
Nadir Mohamed, a farmer, has regained limited use of his feet, which were badly damaged by bullets.
He cannot do the things that previously engaged him, but he is thanking God that he could still walk.
The gunmen did not manage to get into his house, so they sprayed the wooden building with bullets.
His son, Shazam, a budding accountant, was killed during the attack.
“Sometimes we still think that it was a dream. It was something we did not expect. This is a sore that will never heal. I have to keep talking to my wife to help her get over it,” Nadir Mohamed said.
His wife, Bibi Khan, recalled that five of them were in the house when the bandits attacked.
She said that the men kicked and shot out their front door to gain entry into the house.
“Dem shoot, shoot. Awe nah open fuh dead. Me tell dem (family) fuh hide, sit down easy and hide, nah come out,” she recalled.
She said that she later heard her husband, Nadir Mohamed, groaning, and came out from her hiding place only to see her son, Shazam, lying badly wounded in a pool of blood.
“He call out, ‘Ow, mammy, give me some water fuh drink and throw some pon me skin’,” Khan recalled.
For Mohamed the only positive thing that has evolved from the massacre is the closeness that has developed within the community.
“I believe that God spared my life for a purpose,” he said.
Vishnu Seecharran, whose father, Rooplall; mother, Dhanrajie; and sister, Raywattie, were all killed, was lucky to be at his girlfriend’s home when the first bullets were fired.
He had received a telephone call from friends, but had not been prepared for what he was to see later.
It was only when he and another sister arrived at their parents’ home that they realised the extent of the carnage.
“When I sit on the chair and look at the pictures of them that are all over the house, the memories come flooding back. I miss my parents because, as a tradesman, I am sometimes out of work and I had depended on them many times,” Seecharran said.
He now occupies the house with his family, but they do not use the room his parents had occupied.
Rajkumar Harrylall, called Bobby, had left Guyana for Trinidad just a few days before he received the shocking news that his wife, Mohandai Gourdat, and two sons, Seegopaul and Seegobin, had been killed in the carnage.
“I wake up to cook and prepare for work and they called me and told me that I had to travel to Guyana right away, that my wife and children were wounded and were being taken to the hospital. At the time, I was thinking that nothing really serious had happened to them,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, he immediately secured a flight. While there, he got the news that his entire family was killed in the slaughter.
“They were showing it on the television over there, and right away I collapsed. The officials at the airport assisted me and asked me if I could travel, and I told them that I would manage,” Harrylall said.
“The life just went out of me. I had just left less than a week ago. It was them I was living for,” he added.
When he arrived in Guyana, he very badly wanted to see his wife and children, whose bodies were lying at the mortuary, and after much persuasion, he was allowed to.
There, again, he collapsed at the sight of their lifeless bodies.
For him, it is too hard now to look for another spouse to start another family.
“That is out of the question for now. I really had a nice family. I don’t know what really come in these men head. The rest of people got somebody left back, but is my whole family gone,” Harrylall stated.
Harrylall sometimes chides himself for not being there when the tragedy occurred.
“If I was at home, they would have had to break the door to come in. My wife opened the door. She thought that they had only come to rob,” Harrylall explained.
Many residents express horror that the children were not spared.
“Dem nah come fuh rob! Look how dem kill dem pickney while dem sleeping!” was one of the frequent comments.
Residents were upset by the slow response by the police, whom they said refused to answer several telephone calls even as the massacre was in progress.
This was brought to the attention of Police Commissioner Henry Greene, who visited the area hours after the massacre and promised a full investigation into the conduct of his ranks.
Several of the ranks were subsequently disciplined.
Following the slaughter, there was an outpouring of sympathy from every quarter of the Guyanese community.
The event even shocked citizens of other Caricom countries, who sent reporters to cover the tragedy.
Most of the survivors are putting their lives back together, but nothing would erase the sense of fear and loss that they are experiencing.
“They kill ‘Fine Man’ and the others, but we lose our family, and their lives cannot be replaced.”
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