“Daddy, there is a man in school with a gun!”
These were the words yesterday morning of a frightened pupil at Holy Name Convent (HNC) in Port of Spain, when the man accused of kidnapping six-year-old Keyianna Noel escaped police custody and attempted to flee to freedom through the school’s compound.
Initial rumours that the 33-year-old escapee was carrying a firearm sparked panic and led to many anxious parents picking up their daughters from the school long before dismissal time.
This was in spite of an e-mail circulated to worried parents later in the morning from convent principal, Wendy Aqui, assuring them that their children were safe and the escapee was back in police custody.
The Express understands that the school’s “emergency code”, which includes a particular ringing of the bell, was deployed, sending the school into lockdown immediately as the incident was taking place.
When the Express visited the school yesterday afternoon, some parents outside the compound said their fear was “indescribable” following news of the incident.
“All I could think about was those school shootings in the United States,” said one father, whose terrified daughter had called briefly from her cellular telephone to say that an armed man was apparently on the school’s compound.
Making it worse, the man said his daughter managed only to utter those words before the call was cut off.
Word later on that the man was, in fact, unarmed and that a police officer in pursuit fired a warning shot when the man was trying to scale a wall behind Aqui’s office, did little to calm the parents.
“We are thankful to the police for doing their job but a shot or shots were fired on the school compound. That is cause for worry for any parent,” another father said.
The media were not allowed on the compound, which houses HNC and HNC Preparatory but an employee said rumours that the escapee was brandishing a firearm were not true.
The Express was told that the man ran through the compound from the preparatory school to HNC’s side and was attempting to go over the wall behind Aqui’s office when the officer discharged his weapon in warning.
The man is said to have stopped his attempts to go over the wall, upon which the policeman threw a pair of handcuffs towards him and ordered him to cuff himself.
The escapee obliged and was escorted away by a team of police, who had by that time arrived.
“The response by the police was fantastic,” the employee said.
Police details on the incident differed slightly, in that they have claimed two shots were fired in warning.
The man was said to have punched the police officer who was guarding him at Ward 3 of the Port of Spain General Hospital, robbed a man of $250 and run onto HNC’s Queen’s Park East compound.
Investigators said the escapee, who was not handcuffed, attacked PC McIntosh around 7 a.m. by punching him in the face.
He ran down a flight of stairs at the back of the hospital, robbed a man who was waiting to pick up another patient and eventually ended up at the school, with McIntosh in pursuit.
After entering the school, police said the man attempted to jump the back wall before McIntosh fired two warning shots, urging him to stop.
The man fell from the wall and injured one of his legs, before being rearrested, police said.
While the school remained buzzing for some time, with a police presence for most of yesterday, the children were eventually gathered and allowed to have morning assembly as usual.
This was not enough for some parents, who picked up their daughters and sons as quickly as possible.
In an e-mail entitled “School Back to Normal”, principal Aqui stated:
“Dear parents, we wish to assure you that the school is settled and back to normal following the entrance of an intruder on the compound and the intervention of the police in his pursuit.
“You may have received varying accounts of the event, possibly from your daughter, and we are aware that reports have already surfaced on social media. However, we wish to clarify that no one was injured on the compound and the intruder who used the compound as his escape route was apprehended by the police off the compound.
“We tried as far as possible to put the school in lock-down mode while the officers were on the compound, and following their exit have been able to settle the girls, get them into assembly and review our safety procedures. We do hope that the school day will proceed with as great a degree of normalcy as possible and we will be attentive to any signs of trauma in the student population as a result of this. We are at present inundated by calls from concerned parents and thus wish to guarantee you that your daughters are safe, the school is settled and that there is no reason to panic. We thank you for your understanding.”
Investigating officers said the suspect now faces additional charges including escaping lawful custody, assaulting a police officer and robbery.
The man has been hospitalised since January 2 after being arrested by police in Barataria.
Since then, he has been vomiting and urinating blood, his attorney Fareed Ali said.
He was last Saturday scheduled to undergo a computed tomography (CT) Scan to determine the cause of the symptoms but it was not performed as he had suffered an allergic reaction to something he had eaten.
Noel was taken from her home on December 15 by the suspect after he promised to purchase her snacks if she were to leave with him. After negotiating with a female relative of his over the phone, the man dropped the girl off along the Priority Bus Route in Mt Hope where she was later found by police.
Up to yesterday evening, the suspect was still hospitalised after being re-arrested.
ASP Ajith Persad and Insp Harvey Jawahir of the Port of Spain Criminal Investigations Department (CID) are heading enquiries.