HOPE turned to sadness and anger in Techier Village, Point Fortin on Tuesday when two-year-old Kimani "Mani" Francis was found dead in a tributary of the Guapo River almost a mile away from his home. These feelings were reflected in the wider population as people reacted to news of the tragedy after praying that Kimani would be found alive and returned to his family.
The child walked out of his family's home at Tenth Street Extension, Techier Village around 10 am on Monday. He was barefoot, wearing a diaper and seen heading towards a forested area nearby.
The toddler lived with his mother Kimberly Charles, 22, and extended family, including his grandmother, great-grandmother and an aunt. His father, Emmanuel Francis, lives in Guapo, on the outskirts of Point Fortin.
The police got a call from someone who saw the child alone in the road.
A massive search was launched on Monday shortly after Kimani went missing. Teams comprising villagers, police officers, soldiers, NGOs Search and Rescue Team and Hard Grounds, searched the area late into Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Point Fortin MP Kennedy Richards Jr and Point Fortin Mayor Saleema Thomas were also involved.
A base camp was established in the area, allowing search teams to venture out simultaneously to different parts of the nearby forests. Early on Tuesday morning, there was hope among search team members that the boy would be found. One man said, "I hope someone found the child and keeping him safe." A woman said, "I pray Jesus that Kimani comes home."
While search teams combed different parts of the forest along the dirt road where Kimani was last seen, word spread around 10 am that he had been found at a house in Tenth Street Extension. The news sent villagers, police and hunters to that location. The house and surrounding bushes were thoroughly searched. Some villagers called "Kimani," hoping the boy would reply, but he didn’t.
At 10.55 am, news that he had been found sent search teams back towards the dirt road where they had been earlier. At 11.05 am, it was confirmed that the boy's body had been found in a tributary of the Guapo River that ran through a nearby oilfield.
Sadness filled the air and was evident on the faces of the villagers, police officers, fire officers and hunters.
Kimani’s father arrived at 11.15 am and was taken by police to the location where his son's body was. Ten minutes later, other relatives, including Kimani's mother arrived. She wept bitterly. Police officers cordoned off the area, advising all non-security personnel to stay behind a barricade while the spot where Kimani was found was investigated.
The body was removed at around noon. Neither the parents nor any of the immediate family members spoke to the media.
But one relative, who declined to give his name, said he understood why Kimani's parents did not want to say anything
"In a situation like this, the first thing it has is a blame game. Everybody speculating." He was concerned for Kimani's 67-year-old grandmother Patsy Francis, who is hypertensive.
Neighbour gives her side
In a Facebook video, a woman who identified herself as Zoi said she was outside her Tenth Street Extension home, cooking, when she saw Kimani in the road.
"He barely looked like he was two years old. Pampers on, barefoot. He had some kind of paper in his hand.”
The woman said she turned off her stove, woke up her husband and went outside. She claimed her husband said the child's parents were close by.
"I got the police on my phone and I went out."
Zoi said her house was not close to the road, but she was trying to direct the police to where Kimani was.
She said the police told her to follow him.
"I kept going. I did not stop. But the child wasn't anywhere close to me.”
She said Kimani had already passed her house when she first saw him.
"I tried to go as far as I could. Where I was, the child was far in front of me."
Zoi said Kimani turned right at a T-junction at the end of the road they were on.
"When I reached the T (junction) and made the right (turn), I couldn't see him any more.
"I kept going. I was calling, 'Boy!' I was looking all over."
She did not see Kimani in a nearby river and continued walking until she reached a shed along the road.
She met some police officers around 10.27 am who told her to return home while they searched for Kimani.
Zoi said she was overweight and had a problem with one of her feet which prevented her from moving quickly.
Angry villagers confront neighbour
Around 2 pm, some villagers went to Zoi's home and accused her of not doing anything to stop Kimani. One woman shouted at Zoi's relatives as they watched from their porch.
"I'm not going to sleep good. It's unjust, what all you do."
Another woman shouted, "She was the last person to see the child."
At 2.29 pm, a group of police arrived and the crowd of villagers eventually dispersed.
An elderly man came out of Zoi's house to complain about the villagers' accusations.
"Why they doing this wickedness?"
A police officer told him everyone was emotional and to stay calm. The man went back into his house.
As the father of a two-year-old child, Richards empathised with Kimani's family and other villagers who were sad and angry about his death.
"I was looking at him there and I was saying that could happen to anybody. I am not going to cast aspersions on the family, but as a community we would have failed.”
He said no conclusions can be drawn about Kimani's death until an autopsy is done.
With tears in her eyes, Thomas said, "We are lost for words."
Hunters explain what they did
Hunter Search and Rescue team president Ren Gopeesingh told Newsday, "We were one of the first responders in this incident here. I actually spent five hours in the river yesterday (Monday) searching every part of the river."
Gopeesingh said the hunters rented a house in Point Fortin so they could help with the search.
"We combed that exact location (where Kimani’s body was found) last night. About five times, we were in that exact location."
Gopeesingh said the hunters complied with the police's instructions to clear the area when the body was found, to let them do their investigations.
The hunters had put out a $10,000 reward.
"But it all reached down to this point where it is a sad situation."
Gopeesingh confirmed Kimani's relative's comment about information being received twice on Tuesday about two sites where his body was said to be, the latter being the right one.
He said a villager found the body and the police were speaking to him.
"We have no information on that."
Gopeesingh was also confused about how Kimani ended up in the river. Referring to adult villagers standing nearby, he said: "No individual here in this crowd could stand up in this oil sand right now, because it is so hot."
He reminded the media that Kimani was barefoot.
"It just leads you to different questions, looking for answers."
Gopeesingh thought the search effort to find Kimani was well co-ordinated. “This is one of the biggest operations that I have ever seen in my hunters' search and rescue mission, with the police, coast guard and everybody put together."