POLICE are trying to determine whether skeletal remains found at the bottom of a precipice on Sunday are that of a human being, after a major police-led operation in the Heights of Aripo.
If pathologists at the Forensic Science Centre in St James confirm the bones are human, it would be the third corpse found by police in that area over the course of a week.
An exercise to retrieve the bones, dubbed Operation Aripo Sweep, saw over 240 police officers, soldiers, firemen and hunters returning to the forests three days after the body of kidnap victim Andrea Bharatt was found down a precipice. The skeletal remains found on Sunday were discovered not far from where Bharatt's body lay.
Police went back to the area after two sets of bones – one of which was human – were found in the area last week. They went back to make sure there were no other bodies there.
The team comprised officers from various arms of the police, including the Special Operations Response Team (SORT), the Guard and Emergency Branch, Homicide Investigations Bureau, Canine Division, Inter-Agency Task Force and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (AKU). It also included officers of the Defence Force, Air Support, Fire Services and members of the Hunters’ Association.
The teams selected a nine-mile stretch of the Aripo Heights, along Aripo Road, to search. Then they split into nine groups. Each group searched a one-mile radius.
Breakfast and lunch were provided to the teams by the Hunters’ Association. Residents of Aripo Road commended the officers for their search. “They should put some lights on this stretch too,” said one passer-by. “And maybe even a police post.”
At about 1.50 pm, a resident alerted one of the search parties to a scattering of bones at the bottom of a precipice off the road near Lamp Pole 47. Hunters led officers from the Search and Rescue Unit to the bottom of the precipice, where they found the bones.
Police said the bones that are of particular interest to them were found among the scattered bones of various animals. One of the carcasses found at the bottom of the precipice was a cow.
The bones are now at Armstrong’s Funeral Home. Tests at the Forensic Science Centre in St James will show conclusively if these remains are indeed human. Police pointed out to reporters that it would be premature to say so. They did point out that at least one of the bones retrieved is the shape and size of a femur, which extends from the hip to the knee.
The search took place at the same time as hundreds of people marched around the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain demanding changes to the law to prevent or at least minimise violent attacks, abuse and even the murder of women and children.
Andrea Bharatt, 22, who worked as a court clerk, was kidnapped on January 29 after getting into a car she thought was a taxi at the Cleaver Road/Arima Old Road taxi stand on King Street in Arima. The car was later found to be carrying false "H" licence plates. Bharatt was never seen alive again.
In the aftermath of her kidnapping, police arrested six people, one of whom died while in police custody while another, said to have a rap sheet of 70 charges, remains hospitalised. Four other suspects – among them a woman – have all been released.
Police were called to the Heights of Aripo last Thursday after a man spotted a body down a precipice. Bharatt's body was identified by her father Randolph. An autopsy will be done on Monday to determine the cause of her death. Police returned to the Heights of Aripo on Friday, when they found more human remains. The identity of this person remains a mystery.
A former chairman of the Heights of Aripo village council said on Sunday that residents have for years been pleading with authorities to increase the police presence in the area because criminal activities, especially at the Aripo junction, have been increasing.
“We keep telling them we want a police post by the junction, cameras along the roads and for police to do routine road checks. Schoolchildren drop off there every day. A lot of villagers have been robbed there,” said the man, who asked not to be named.
He said the community centre in the village is also an option for a police post. “Nothing is happening there, so they can use it to set up a post.”
Another resident, Bernadette Mongo, said the discovery of Bharatt's body as well as the two other corpses was downright frightening.
“It’s not people from Aripo doing these things and it’s an especially frightening thing for the women who work outside of the village and who have to wait at the junction to get transport to their homes.
"Remember, there are no buses, no street lights, no cameras and it’s just one way in and one way out. Sometimes while we are waiting, there are a lot of strange vehicles which keep passing in and out. We don’t know who is who," Mongo said.
Secretary of the village council Shereem Mathlin told Newsday she is hoping to meet with MP for the area Pennelope Beckles to discuss getting street lights installed along the road as one safety measure.
“As a resident and a woman, these developments are scary and very uncomfortable,” Mathlin said.
Additional reporting by