Finding Andrea Bharatt

Hunters who volunteered to help search for Andrea Bharatt are thanked by police officers. - Ayanna Kinsale
Hunters who volunteered to help search for Andrea Bharatt are thanked by police officers. - Ayanna Kinsale

UNDER cloudy skies, from around 11 am on Thursday, police, volunteers and journalists made their way up the Aripo Road, to a bushy spot where the narrow, winding road overlooks unnerving precipices.

That morning, when there were reports that the body of a woman had been found at the foot of a precipice in the Heights of Aripo, some doubted it was Andrea Bharatt. The six-day search for her had already seen search-and-rescue parties on the ground combing through forested areas in northeastern Trinidad, but investigators had also had to sift through false reports on social media claiming her body had been found.

The Newsday team arrived just after midday, shortly before police cordoned off the area. First-responding police warned the few members of the media present to be careful what information they sent out. One said he was a close friend of the family and was emphatic that he did not want Bharatt's family to learn of her death via social media.

Investigators speak behind a police caution tape pulled across the Aripo Road in the Heights of Aripo where Andrea Bharatt's body was found down a precipice on Thursday. - Ayanna Kinsale

There was a lot of activity as the crime scene was being processed, but also a heavy, anxious silence. As more police, media and fire officers arrived, the mood shifted to one of unease as speculation over the identity of the body began to circulate.

Two hours later, police brought Bharatt's father – a single parent – and her aunt up the hill. Randolph Bharatt walked quietly and slowly to the cordoned-off stretch of the road to view the body that he later confirmed was his daughter's.

About an hour later, he was escorted away from the scene, surrounded by police, his right hand tightly grasping the hand of a female officer. There were no tears, no outburst. Bharatt's aunt was less composed, weeping as she left.

Father of Andrea Bharatt, Randolph Bharatt, centre, is escorted by police officers at the Heights of Aripo where Andrea's body was found. - AYANNA KINSALE

The media, respectful of their grief, silently watched as they got into a vehicle and were driven away.

Eventually, the hearse carrying Bharatt's body left, and the road was reopened to traffic.

One resident told Newsday she and many others had waited for over two hours before they were allowed to pass to get home.

“Nobody could get in or out. All cars had to pull aside and wait until the police were finished.”

Bharatt’s body was found close to an area known as Double Bridge. Two bridges, a few feet apart, are built over what used to be streams, now all dried up. There is an urban myth of a male villager seen leading two tourists – a man and his wife – up the river many decades ago. They were never seen again. It is alleged that he killed them, then fled to Venezuela.

A resident pointed out that Bharatt's body was found "down the hill about ten steps away from Double Bridge, at a corner where the road is eaten away.

Fire officers, part of the retrieval team which pulled Andrea Bharatt's body from down the precipice at Aripo Road, arrive on the scene. - Ayanna Kinsale

"But where she was, you can’t really see anything there from the road,” the resident said.

A number of years ago, another villager and a taxi driver had found the body of a man over a cliff just a few metres away from where Bharrat was found.

“It was almost in the same place,” he told Newsday. “The police questioned us for days.”

He said the fact that criminals were using the area as a dumping ground for bodies is marring the reputation of the village and its residents.

"Imagine, some of my co-workers called to tell me, 'I'm not coming there again, allyuh killing people in Aripo' – and we have no idea this is going on."

Andrea Bharatt's last few hours are still to be pieced together.

At 22, she was a quiet girl, not a limer or a partier. In fact, her father Randolph Bharatt in one interview told reporters that at times he had to prod her to leave the house and enjoy life.

With this in mind, he must have worried that something was wrong when she had not returned home almost two hours after her workday at the Arima Magistrates' Court had ended. When he called her phone and a stranger answered, demanding money for her safe release, he knew a parent's worst fears had come true.

The death of this quiet girl touched people who never knew her, but were still reeling from the kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, just two months ago. Their deaths had horrible similarities: two young women taking taxis – Riley on November 29 and Bharatt on January 29 – each of their bodies found almost a week later, on December 4 and February 4 respectively, in remote areas. Both deaths aroused the sorrow and fury of a country that has lost two more of its daughters.


"Finding Andrea Bharatt"

More in this section