Police Minister Doug Singh has insisted to the media that the total murders for Belize for the year 2010 was 129, and not the whopping 132 the media had recorded.
The 3-murder discrepancy for a record-breaking year seems a moot point today, as ten days into the New Year, 2011, Belize has recorded its third murder – this time, that of a female child amidst baffling circumstances.
Three days ago, on Monday, January 10, a “missing person” report was made to police by the 12-year-old girl’s mother, a resident of Ladyville who claimed she had sent her daughter on an errand to a store in Belize City. Not long after, however, the mother’s explanation of the reason for her daughter’s trip would change. It has been claimed that more than one account were given to describe the purpose of the girl’s departure from home.
What is known, however, is that Janessa Jones left her home, less than 10 miles from the city, around 4:30 that evening, and when she did not return home that night, her mother, Arlene Bainton, called police.
That same night, Monday, Jones’ family, teachers, and members of the community, along with Minister Michael Hutchinson, organized a search, but knew very little about her possible whereabouts other than reports they received that the girl was last seen catching a bus at the airport road junction with the Northern Highway in Ladyville.
They went to Belize City and, according to Hutchinson, searched areas known to Janessa, including the Pound Yard area, the Belcan Bridge, Central American Boulevard, and areas around the BTL Park. The search team even went to the Vista del Mar area in Ladyville and spotted lights around in an effort to locate her.
Monday night’s search lasted approximately three hours, said Hutchinson.
Yesterday, Wednesday, the worst fears of all those hoping for the child’s return were realized when a child’s body – which would later under examination show signs of a traumatic death – was seen floating among some mangroves where the Haulover Creek meets the sea by a passing boatman.
There would be a post-mortem examination, and a hasty burial soon after. There would also be at some point speculation and street talk about who could have caused the child’s death, and the true nature of the errand she was sent on and how it could have put her in harm’s way. But amidst rumor and suspicion, there was one certainty – the grief of a family and community forced to deal with a young girl’s tragic death.
When the news reached Amandala, our reporters headed to the Northern Highway and went to an area near the sea, Bayview Oasis. There the reporters met with other members of the media, the police (including press officer Fritzroy Yearwood) and Janessa’s mother, father, stepfather, and other family members, who were waiting for the Police Anti Drug Unit (ADU) skiff to retrieve the body from the sea where it had earlier been seen by the boat owner, who had alerted the authorities.
Yearwood proceeded to state the following: “A boat owner, who was coming to this marina probably to leave his boat …is saying that he saw what appeared to be a body somewhere near the edge of the mangroves in the river, and upon going over there, he realized that it was a female child and he called the police.”
He further went on, in response to media queries, to say, “Like I said, the child was reported missing. We sent out a release; we sent out flyers; we were looking for this 12- year-old child. We found her body…. As to whether or not we suspect anything, we will do that after we have the results of the post-mortem.”
When asked if the child was clothed, Yearwood replied, “Yes, she was clothed”.
At around 1:00 p.m., Janessa’s body was retrieved from the sea, and transported to the morgue, where it was pronounced dead on arrival. The morgue, however, could not accept the body due to its advanced state of decomposition, and it was thereafter taken to an area off the Boom Road, where an immediate autopsy was held by Dr. Hugh Sanchez.
The autopsy results have since ruled the cause of death to be head injuries with bronco-aspiration.
After the autopsy, young Janessa was taken away by her family and laid to rest at the Lord’s Bank burial ground.
One day she goes missing, the next day it is broadcasted through the media that she is missing, the following day she is found, and on that same day she is buried. Too much for a child, who as we were told, was full of life and promise.
Minister Michael Hutchinson, who coincidentally happens to be Janessa’s neighbor, spoke with us at the burial site.
Deeply disturbed by the news of Janessa’s death, Hutchinson told us he knew Janessa very well, and that from time to time she would jump into his truck and ask for a ride.
According to him, young Janessa was a hyperactive child, street smart and very bright.
His feelings: “I do not see who in their right minds could have hurt an innocent child regardless of the state in which she was. Either if she was robbed, or plainly taken advantage of. Why go to the extent of taking away her life?” he said.
And today, questions about Janessa’s disappearance and death remain unanswered. Was Janessa abducted and then murdered? If so, by whom, and for what reasons?
Unconfirmed reports indicate that classmates had seen Janessa board a bus on Monday evening at the airport junction in Ladyville. Police today would not comment on that aspect of the case, and would only state that the matter was under investigation.
The stepfather was hostile to the press, and the father promised to speak with us today, Thursday, but no one answered the phone number that had been given to us.
The mother had told police that Janessa was sent to the City on an errand, but since then, the mother has given several accounts of the story, leading authorities to question what the real circumstances were behind the child’s departure from home, and what sequence of events led to the child’s death.
Although we were persistent, we were unable to speak with any family member. Yesterday, they declined an interview with us, and today we attempted to speak with an aunt, who also declined to speak with us.
We did manage to speak with Jean Lucas, Janessa’s standard five teacher, and Vice Principal, Emogene Young Ramclam, who told us that the young girl was active, jovial and helpful, and was the sort of person “that you had to notice”. They said she had a passion for the arts, and had in fact won a gold medal for dancing at the Festival of Arts.
Vice Principal Ramclam said, “Janessa was loud; you could hear her before you saw her. She was very brilliant and very ambitious, with a bright future ahead of her. She took part in the Festival of Arts and she won gold for dancing. She would take part in sporting activities, and besides from being book smart, she took part in extra- curricular activities in school.
“We are all at a loss for words because yesterday, myself and two other teachers were on our own little search for her when we got the call that they had found her body by Bayview Oasis; we went there, we saw her when they pronounced her dead.”
Lucas described the moment when she revealed the tragic news to Janessa’s peers:
“Well I guess they were stunned”, she sighed, “because nobody really said anything and I guess they were just like myself, thinking that she would come back home , but when I gave them the message, they cried.”
According to Lucas, Janessa always sat in the front row, and now it will be painful not to see her seated there.
The school will hold a memorial mass tomorrow, Friday, January, 14, in remembrance of young Janessa.
Police have so far indicated that they have two persons of interest in custody as a part of their investigations.