CHILDREN’S Authority director Nichola Harvey-Mitchell said a security lapse at one of its safe houses in north Trinidad led to the escape of five teenage boys last week, two of whom were gunned down in Laventille on Sunday evening. The victims have been identified as Antonio Francois and Semion Daniel, both 15.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday, Harvey-Mitchell admitted that during the escape, the security officer on duty was dealing with a fight, which is now believed to have been a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the five boys who escaped.
Harvey-Mitchell said, “We had a gap in our security and supervision at the time the incident occurred, but certainly I would not say the authority failed the boys.
“And while the authority will take some measure of responsibility for the lack of supervision for the short moments we didn’t have the proper supervision, as well as when we didn’t have the security in place on Saturday, we want to also make known that this is a national problem. We would get children at the end of the pipeline, we get the children when they are abused.”
Harvey-Mitchell said while the authority wants to do a better job, it is unable to because demand for its services is greater than the resources available.
The authority normally confiscates all electronic devices when a child enters a safe house, she said. Harvey-Mitchell said when the boys’ devices were taken, it led to resistance and that may have been the reason for the escape, and not abuse or mistreatment, as some have claimed.
NEED TO BEEF UP SECURITY
She said the authority didn’t want to turn its safe houses into prisons but because of the behaviour and personalities of the youths it houses, there is need to introduce additional measures regarding security.
On March 20, the boys squeezed through a burglar-proofed window and escaped while the caregiver was preparing snacks the boys had asked for.
On Sunday night, police responded to a report of multiple gunshots at Mc Shine Lands in Laventille and at 7 pm, they came across the bodies of Francois and Daniel on the roof of an abandoned building. The roof was level with the road.
The police, in a press release on Monday, said they believe gang warfare may have led to the double murder and that the gunmen were wearing clothing with the word POLICE printed on it. They also said no arrests have been made but the case is at a “delicate” stage.
Safe houses, in the case of minors, are facilities used to accommodate and treat at-risk children who are in need of supervision and/or counselling after being abused.
In total, the authority has 957 children under its care – some in these safe homes, some in foster care and others at different institutions.
The maximum number of children held at a safe house is 48, Harvey-Mitchell said, and each facility has a house mother, managers, psychologists, security and nurses.
She said the authority was able to thwart an escape attempt by the five on March 18 and after they were counselled, they promised not to try to escape again.
She revealed that the boys used computers provided for online classes to communicate with each other and with people outside the safe house.
In the last conversation with the escapees, Harvey-Mitchell recalled they desperately wanted to be at home with family. Four of them came into the safe house in January while the fifth had been there since last year July.
THEY DIDN’T WANT TO STAY
The boys’ relatives said they were expected to leave the safe house soon and had never complained of abuse by Authority officials, contrary to rumours of abuse that were circulating on social media.
The father of Francois told Newsday at the Forensic Sciences Centre on Monday morning that his son had been doing well, had no complaints and the family was comfortable with his behavioural change. They are in shock and confused as to why he escaped.
The mother of Daniel, Nathalie Brathwaite, said her son contacted someone known to the family after he escaped to say he was safe. She said he too was improving and had no complaints about his treatment.
“He just didn’t want to stay there, and it wasn’t because of no any abuse. He wanted to come home and he was supposed to leave soon because his progress was good enough. I visited him two weeks ago and he would usually have supervised calls. We are shocked.”
Daniel was a young farmer and sold chicken as a side hustle. Asked about comments being made linking her child to criminal activity, Brathwaite said, “I know my son, it doesn’t matter what they say and I’m not going to clarify, and they could say what they want.”
Another escapee was liming with the boys when the incident happened. He luckily escaped unharmed and was held by police. The Children’s Authority is calling on the last two boys to return.