Aug 07, 2017 News
It wasn’t an amateur getaway plan. In fact, it was one that had been in the pipeline for months, or, as some suspect, even a year.Their plan: To break out of the nation’s high-security prison in Camp Street, by any means necessary.The alleged masterminds: Convicted Bartica and Lusignan killer, Mark Royden Durant; Uree Varswyck, the former Tactical Services Unit (TSU) rank who was charged with two counts of murder; Stafrei Alexander Hopkinson, who was also charged with two counts of murder, and Desmond James. Durant had even allegedly enlisted the help of a woman to smuggle a grenade into the jail. Luckily, the cops thwarted that plan and the woman was charged.But the escapees came up with another plan, in which they successfully managed to get their hands on a firearm.They put that deadly plan in action on July 9.
Just around 5.00 p.m. on July 9, inmates set fires at several sections of the prison to distract the authorities—and their plan did work.While the prison guards were all focusing on the blaze, Durant; Varswyck, Hopkinson and James, armed themselves and attacked all who were in their way as they were fleeing the facility in which some of them had been confined for years. When the prison warders realized what was happening within the prison, some did try to prevent the escape. Some paid dearly for their bravery. Senior prison officer, Odinga Wickham was shot and chopped to death. The escapees also wounded prison warders Hubert Trim, Simeon Sandy, Errol Daphness, Drexel Gonsalves, Jason Maltoy and Dominic Mingo.Other terrified prison staff fled for their safety.Prison surveillance camera footage showed Durant; Varswyck; Alexander; James; another Bartica and Lusignan Massacre killer, Dennis Williams called “Anaconda” and Shawn Collins exiting the facility and making their way towards Bent Street, Georgetown while opening fire on the TSU ranks outside. The inmates were armed with two guns and cutlasses. The CCTV footage subsequently showed Williams running back into the prison compound while looking out for the prison guards—it was later revealed that the escapees had already gotten into a car and left him behind.By this time, the area around the prison could be likened to a war zone, with the prison on fire, and three prisoners holding a guard at knifepoint in his post and some threatening to kick down the northern section of the prison fence.
Heavily armed soldiers and police ranks were seen running and positioning themselves at the four section of Camp Street jail in the event the inmates did manage to break the fence down.As word spread about the unrest, relatives of the incarcerated men rushed to the area. Some were seen crying and praying for their loved ones to be safe.Yet others screamed “murder”, whenever gunshots were heard, and some even tried to reach the prisoners via mobile phone.One woman was heard lamenting that her husband, brother, father, nephew and uncle were in the jail and if anything should happen to them, then it will be “war.”By now the fire had already spread to most sections of the prison.And the 1010 inmates remaining at the facility did not make their work easy for the firefighters who arrived. They began hurling various objects at the hapless fire fighters whenever the firefighters came too close to blaze.For more than half of an hour, the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) ranks were forced to watch as the wooden structure of the prison crumbled.On the eastern end of the prison, three prisoners were seen holding one of the prison guards—in a mounted guard post, at gunpoint.Eventually, only a small section of the prison as left standing.Shortly after 7.00 P.M, army and other security forces escorted the inmates to sit outside the prison. Some were taken to the nearby Prison Officer’s Sports Complex. They broke into a bar and used alcohol to set the building in fire.Shortly after the prisoners were loaded into large buses and trucks and escorted to an open pasture at the Lusignan Prison.It was sometime between the time they were being loaded into the vehicles and escorted to Lusignan that inmates Cobena Stephens and Cornelius Thomas managed to slip away.
ON THE RUN
But what of the escapees?While Shawn Collins went his own way, Durant, Varswyck, Alexander and James stayed together. They hijacked a car and later abandoned it in North Ruimveldt, Georgetown.They took the driver of the vehicle, 22-year-old Mathew Shivtahal, with them into the backlands and instructed that he ran with them.It was around midnight Sunday that Shivtahal was allowed to leave—this was after there was a debate on whether to kill him.The young taxi driver was forced to walk from Land of Canaan to Annandale, East Coast Demerara (ECD).
News of the escape and killing of a warder sent civilians into panic mode. Many feared that the escape would trigger a crime wave similar to the one that was unleashed on the nation following the 2002 jailbreak. Residents, immediately started putting security measures in place. Businesses in and around the city closed their doors early.Rumours spread thick and fast. One rumour was that the escapees were searching for weapons that were buried during the crime wave.It was also claimed that the fugitives were plotting to attack other prisons.An unfortunate incident also occurred when a mentally ill man, Charles Peters was shot to the right arm and back by police after being mistaken for one of the escapees. Ranks had shot at him after he fled.With most of the Georgetown Prison destroyed, several inmates were transferred to the New Amsterdam, Mazaruni and Timehri prisoners while some were also taken to the Lusignan Prison compound.
And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, on July 24, 13 prisoners crawled to freedom through a tunnel they had gun in a latrine in the Lusignan holding facility. The Lusignan Prison escapees went wild, with some of them visiting their homes and others expressing, via Facebook, their joy at being free. But for many, that freedom was short lived.Hours later, Odel Roberts, Rayon Jones and Jamal Forde were nabbed along the Agriculture Road, Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara, while Teshawn McKenzie and Winston Long were captured near the Route 44 bus park in Georgetown.A few hours later, Jamal Joseph and Jason Howard were captured in North East La Penitence. Some days later, escapee Pascal Smith was captured in Barr Street, Kitty. He plunged into a latrine to avoid recapture. Shawn Harris was nabbed in Mocha, East Bank Demerara (EBD). Clive Forde was shot dead during a shootout with ranks from the joint services two Sundays ago.Later that same evening, another escapee Kerry Cromwell surrendered at the Brickdam Police Station accompanied by his mother. Kendall Skeete was caught hiding in the abandoned house of one of his relatives at Wisrock, Linden.Also, Camp Street escapee Stafrei Hopkinson Alexander was apprehended in Topoo, Albion, East Berbice, Corentyne. He was nursing a recent gunshot wound to the leg.
THOSE ON THE RUNThe Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) are working to apprehend prison escapees, Paul Goriah, Mark Royden Durant, Uree Varswyck and Cobena Stephens as quickly as possible.In their effort of making the streets safe again, the joint services is asking that citizens call the authorities as soon as they spot the inmates, who are believed to be armed and dangerous. Persons are being reminded that harbouring a fugitive is illegal and persons will be charged. In fact, just last week an 18-year-old was jailed for three years and fined $80,000 for harbouring wanted man, Melvor Jeffrey.“Just remember by offering these persons a little food, you can be taken out of your home and thrown in jail so think about it before you act. And, you can call the police at any time if you see your neighbour hiding these people,” a police source pointed out.
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