MYSTERY surrounds the desecration of the grave site of a 33- year-old woman less than 24 hours after her body was buried at the Los Bajos public cemetery in south west Trinidad.
Police were called in on Wednesday morning by the relatives of Whitney Bourne after learning that someone had tampered with her final resting place.
Police, Bourne's family, officials from the funeral home which oversaw her final rites and gravediggers descended on the grave which was cordoned off with police caution-tape. After several hours of digging, Borne's coffin was reached and to the immense relief of her relatives, her body was found to be intact.
But no one knows why anyone would want to tamper and desecrate the woman's grave. Bourne of Palo Seco, died from cervical cancer on Christmas Day and was laid to rest on Tuesday.
The funeral for the single-parent mother of four took place at the Los Bajos Seventh-day Adventist Church on Tuesday at 2 pm. Shortly after 4 pm, her body was taken to the cemetery. After the burial, mourners covered the site with mulch and decorated it with flowers. They left at around 6 pm.
To their shock and horror, at around 7 am on Wednesday, the family was alerted to the desecration. They headed to the site and seeing the earth dug up at Bourne's grave, reported it to the Palo Seco police. At that time, they were uncertain as to whether or not her body or its coffin was still six feet under.
After hours of tense waiting under clear skies as the gravediggers got down to their task, Bourne's family were relieved when the coffin was opened to show she was still in it. Their relief however quickly turned to anger.
Speaking to Newsday at the site, Bourne's father Whitford Bourne said he felt relief knowing the body was still in the coffin.
"But the question is, why? Why would someone do something like that? It is frustrating to go through the heartbreak of losing my child to only face this stress after my daughter's burial.
"The important thing for me is that she is there and I feel a little more comfortable than before and I thank God for that. She was my only baby girl," Bourne said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Whitford said he lives in the US and was only informed of his daughter's cancer diagnosis a few months ago. He visited in October and spent 11 days with her. Though she had been complaining about belly pains for over three years, she kept her diagnosis a secret from him and other relatives.
He said her children are 11, nine, three and the last one, "about nine months old."
Whitford said he was trying to be strong for his adult sons and other relatives. He emphasised that had he known earlier of her diagnosis, he would have made it his priority for her to receive the best health care possible.
Touching a gold chain around his neck, the still-grieving father said he had planned to place it around his daughter's neck.
"Something told me not to do it. Christmas Day will never be the same for me again. I will always think of her on this day," he said.
He added that he saw other freshly decorated graves in the cemetery and was baffled as to why people chose to target his daughter's final resting spot.
Though Bourne was not married, relatives said she was sent off in an expensive white "wedding dress" with matching shoes and accessories. She was also wearing a, "beautiful wig."
Earlier, as the police waited for the go-ahead from the Siparia Regional Corporation (SRC) to check the grave site to confirm the coffin and body were still there, Bourne and other relatives waited impatiently, not knowing what to expect.
Bourne's brother, Nigel Jacob, who turned 48 on Wednesday, recalled that neatly placed flowers were found scattered at the site. A mattress which was placed on top of the purple coffin before burial, was found above ground and shredded.
"She was not wearing any gold. We don't know if they took out the box (coffin), looked inside to see if there was anything of value and then put it back," Jacob said.
"We are trying to figure out why someone would do this. Our mother lives in the US and is very upset about this. She did not get a chance to come to the funeral. Whitney was our only sister," Jacob said adding that he is one of six brothers in total.
Officers including ASP Mathura, Insp Ramlakhan, PCs Steele, PC Ramdass as well as Insp Bridgemohan and PC Sampson both of the SRC's Municipal Police visited the scene.
Representatives from Madhosingh's Funeral Home Ltd of Los Bajos were also there. A representative accused social media users of making "negative comments" about their business.
The man, who asked not to be named, clarified that the company had no information on the act of vandalism.
Police said nearby residents were awakened at around 3 am by the sounds of dogs barking and howling. A damaged spade was found near to Bourne's grave.
Curious onlookers speculated the culprits may have been after the dead woman's valuables including her clothing or even her wig.
According to the Burial Grounds Act, any person who interfaces with a corpse or refuses to comply with the instructions of the (corporation) CEO or cemetery keeper regarding the opening or filling in of any grave is guilty of an infringement of the regulations and is liable to a fine of $75.
Police said they do not have a motive and have no suspects.
After ascertaining that Bourne was still in the coffin and all was as it should be, the lid was secured and the diggers went ahead and reburied her.
"Let's hope that this time, she can finally rest in peace," a man said as he walked away.