Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When grief never ends

How Osmond and Hematee 'survived'

Osmond Baboolal and his sister Hematee, on the day their lives were destroyed.


Married when a teenager, and widowed in her 30s, Beltina Baboolal raised twelve children on her own. 

Her best years were spent planting the cane crop or forking the land, grazing cattle into the night, toting buckets of water and bundles of firewood for miles when not working in the sugar factory, making sure that if the children had nothing else, they had food. 

All twelve would make it into adulthood, some excelling in the academics provided by the Presbyterian Church's Canadian Mission to the Indians school, others following the agriculture of their forefathers. 

One of Beltina's firstborn children was Deo Baboolal, who would remain close to his "Ma", passing by her home for a meal and advice long after he moved out, got married, and began raising four children of his own, while farming the land around Williamsville. 

The Baboolals would become a respected name, people known for their hard work and honest dealings at a time when there were plenty uses for a cutlass outside of the cane harvest. 

But Deo Baboolal's son Hamilton became the family's weak link, adopting the nickname 'Teddy Mice' - after the infamous El Socorro drug kingpin Shazard "Tedy Mice" Khan who was slain in 1988. 

And despite his parents' best efforts, "Teddy" came to be known as a village low life, involved in small time drug running and robberies, charged with kidnapping and connecting with the drug baron of nearby Piparo - Dole Chadee. 

It was a threat to abduct one of Chadee's children, overheard and reported back to the "Boss" that triggered the events that led to that night in January 1994, when Chadee sent his gang to Williamsville to "kill everybody", a massacre that would send Chadee and eight to the gallows five years later. 

The gunshots that killed Deo and his family were heard a street away by his mother Beltina. That woman was tormented till her final breath. "How could you get over something like that? Is like a bucket of water that spill. You can never pick it up again" she told this reporter each anniversary we visited and asked about the executions of her family and of the Chadee gang. 

Beltina died in 2005, at the age of 87. 

Beltina Baboolal

The only known photographs of the Baboolal's family house in the newspapers - a wooden walls freshly painted, the front yard planted with crotons and Hindu prayer flags from a recent pooja.

 The only known photos of the victims are those taken by the police photographer and showed during the trial- Deo Baboolal dead on the steps downstairs where the killers caught him as he arrived home, daughter Monica on the livingroom couch where she died looking at late night TV, and on the floor - wife Rookmin, next to the beloved son who caused it all.

And twenty -four years later, that case is remembered by most from those newspaper photos of Osmond and Hematee Baboolal - of a terrified boy hugging his younger sister, images captured hours after they became witnesses to their own orphaning.

The politicians and social welfare officials of the time will tell you that they tried hard with limited resources and legislative support, and worked with the extended Baboolal family to help the children. 

Both children ended up returning to that house of death for a while, before it burned to the ground in an arson still unsolved. 

Hematee would become a ward of the State and disappear from public's view. 

No such luck for Osmond. He lost everyone at the most vulnerable time in his life, and became the symbol of what happens when a child at risk becomes the 'leper of a community and society. 

Manohar Ramsaran was the Social Development Minister in the years 1995 to 2000. 

He told us then: "We tried. We had specialist officers to deal with him. But somebody put in his head that the State supposed to give him plenty money and he didn't want to be assisted. He wasn't listening to anyone". 

There was no Childrens Authority then. And no Criminal Injuries Compensation law. There was also no benefactor willing to invest in Osmond, the way the State was investing in the Chadee trial, and Chadee was investing in his defence. 

All Osmond was entitled to was a small grant. 

Retired senior officer with the Social Welfare Division Chanka Ramtahal said his department did its part. 

"We arranged for counselling, to send him to learn some form of skill. All that fell through. He started then stopped attending sessions. He was really a troubled child". 

There were also people volunteering to help Osmond back then, said Ramtahal, "but psychologically he could not be reached. We as social workers think we know, but we really only know so much as they can articulate". 

So Osmond became a media spectacle, charged or convicted for drug offences, weapon possession, threats, becoming a mean-spirited and dangerous youth pacing the streets in the village, feared even by extended family. 

Home for Osmond in the years after the fire at his family home, would be halfway houses, witness protection hideouts, a shack in the village, the St Ann's Hospital, and various police station lockups. 

He was pulled out of the Williamsville Secondary School he was attending at the time of the murder, moved to a State home in Port of Spain and planted, under an assumed name, in a class at the Success Laventille Composite. 

A school official told the Express last week: "It was probably the most cruel thing the system could have done, taking a country boy of East Indian origin and dumping him in a callous city environment totally alien from the culture he would have been accustomed to, Needless to say, he didn't fit in and soon dropped out".

 

This is Osmond Baboolal at the Maximum Security Prison.

Home for the past six years for Osmond has been a cell in the most secure section of the Maximum Security Prison, at Golden Grove, Arouca. 

He is awaiting trial on two counts of attempted murder. In 2010, in what police said was an unprovoked act, he chopped two school children just up the street from the house in which he witrnessed the murders that night as a 13-year-old. 

The "boy" is now a 37-years-old man. And now he has no one. 

He is totally reliant on the State. There is no one on the "outside" to purchase personal supplies or anything to add to his three meals. If a brethren does not share, he goes without toilet paper, toothpaste, or a toothbrush. 

Prison sources tell us he had gone without his medication for months, needed for both physical and mental ailments. 

Osmond also no longer has legal representation. His attorney during the preliminary no longer practices law and has left the country. 

The Express tried multiple times to get the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to say when his trial would begin in the High Court. 

There is no information to share. 

We also checked the 'cause list' of trials due to be called at the San Fernando High Court this month. Nothing about the Baboolal case. We are told the case file is at the San Fernando Office of the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Joan Honore Paul. She has the power to bring it to trial. 

Meantime, Osmond has grown accustomed to the "inside" and its routine. 

He is also considered one of the smartest people behind bars, articulate and well mannered, a view shared by police offices, lawyers and relatives who spent time with him. 

Through prison sources, the Express was able to ask Osmond if he wished to say what assistance he might need, and what those with the power could have done better to help him. He declined and refused any help. He will do it on his own. We have done enough, he said.  

 

 

The Baboolal Family home on the day of the massacre.

We also found out about Hematee from multiple sources involved in her upkeep and upbringing.

 Seven-years-old when the killings happened, she too entered a State home after some turbulent years being cared for by a relative. She excelled in Princes Town, entered a government secondary school, nailed the CXC examinations, scored high in the CAPE results and got a degree, with the financial support and love from a group of a couple female politicians, school administrators, and professional women who will remain unnamed by request.

 Hematee now holds a job in one of the most coveted professions in the county.

Her identity will remain a secret. 

But those who have followed her remarkable success speak of a deeply traumatised woman who much more support from us the people. And there are people in high political office with the ability to see it through. 

Those who know Hematee also say she still cares deeply for her brother, despite a seperation that is probably for her own good. He protected her that night. 

'We still care'

Many members of the Baboolal family still live in Williamsville. They too were deeply traumatised by the killings, some changing their names, others moving out of the village and the stigma of "them related to the Baboolals who Dole kill". 

The Express spoke to relatives. They declined to be named. The Chadee name still holds power. There is still unease in the village. But they were willing to talk, about Osmond and about Hematee. 

"I am sure they feeled abandoned. It pains me every day. They are my blood and part of me" said one. 

"We were there initially, doing the best we could. But it was scary time, you understand? There were times we felt we could have gone mad too". 

The family is hoping that Osmond and Hematee read this article, since they have a message. 

"We still love them and want them to be part of their life. They have cousins and uncles and aunts. They still have family. Their grandmother would want that". 

WHAT COULD WE HAVE DONE? 

Psyciatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh said the State has a duty to institute a tracking system of all child victims of crime or trauma, ensuring they are given support and treatment. 

Failure could lead to individuals who further traumatise the society, he said. 

In the case of the Baboolal children, said Deyalsimngh, to see a parent killed in front is a trauma etched in the memory for a lifetime. 

"On one hand you may be terrified for your own life and run and hide. On the other hand you want to save them and feel guilty you did not act to save them. Survivors guilt can play out in your mind daily, occupying your thoughts until you are not functioning in the present, thinking I should have or could have done something different".

 He said: "Being in a near death experience can lead to post traumatic stress disorder order, with it's flashbacks.Then there is the issue of bereavement in childhood if not handled properly which would leave emotional scars for decades". 

Deyalsingh, secretary to the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobabo, pointed to a study done at St. John Hopkins children center in Baltimore which found those who lost their parents young are more likely to be hospitalized for depression or violent crime. 

"So they may internalize and be depressed or externalize and act out. These children need to process grief looking at old pictures, speaking with family members , also setting new goals and having some other support. 

This support, be it other family members or therapist, must convince the children that it new support would be there and not taken away as their parents. and It has to be part of the children's' lives, until they are stable. 

If no stable family members are around, he said, the intervention had to come from then school guidance councillors from student support service or therapist from the child guidance would have made up their minds they are in for a long haul with these children as they are now replacing parents as support figures also giving therapy to cope as well as recognize pathology and treatment . 

He said it is crucial to intervene at the beginning of a child's grief journey. 

"Different children may react differently to trauma depending on their own internal temperament. Some can become more resilient, responsible and independent. But some lose their childhood, may have hard time keeping relationships with people, and might push them away, scared if they get close to anyone then they could lose them". 

Ideally, said Deyalsingh, Osmond and Hematee could have gained strength and support from each other. 

Sometimes, however, if the trauma occurred at home and that home is a constant reminder of the trauma, it is better to move from the place. 

"Some turn to drugs to cope with the emotional pain .Some may hate and hurt other children who appear happy and have their parents. Why should they enjoy life if I am miserable ?"

Osmond Baboolal