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'I want my father!'

7-year-old boy's cry demonstrates pain, grief after two wards die in children's home fire

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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A seven-year-old boy's prolonged high-pitched cry echoed through the Shiloh Apostolic Faith Tabernacle Church yard on Lyndhurst Road in Kingston where he and other wards of the State are staying temporarily.

He was one of the 34 wards of the state lucky enough to survive a fire at Walker's Place of Safety on nearby Lyndhurst Crescent.

Two other children — one 12, the other 16 — were not so fortunate.

Superintendent Kevin Haughton from the Jamaica Fire Brigade told the Jamaica Observer that firefighters from the Half-Way-Tree, York Park, Stony Hill, and Rollington Town stations responded to a call at 12:08 am that the home was on fire.

It took them approximately one hour to bring the fire under control.

As the morning wore on, the night's harrowing experience seem to hit the boy. He wept uncontrollably as he sat at a table in one of the classrooms across from the church building.

A stranger held him in his arms and walked towards the door, but his efforts to console the boy were futile.

“I want my father,” he wailed.

The Observer was told that the boy and two of his siblings had been staying at the facility for just over three weeks.

The boy's mother, who was obviously shaken by the fact that three of her seven children could have perished in the fire, wept as she was unable to console her son.

The mother told the Observer that approximately 6:30 am she was at home when she was informed that two children died in the fire.

The panicked woman rushed to the home, only to find that it had already been razed. But even when she was told that her children were safe at the nearby church, which houses a basic school, she was still nervous.

“Even when I reached the school I was still not sure if my kids were the ones that died,” the mother said, adding that when she went inside the building she saw a Child Development Agency (CDA) representative who told her that her children were safe.

According to the mother, her children were taken away from her after a report was made to the CDA by her relatives.

Seemingly remorseful, she admitted that she was hardly at home to monitor her children because she had to be “hustling” to take care of them.

“The father is not supporting them, and I want to put him before the court now because if he was I would not be all over doing all kinds of hustling to support them,” she cried.

Another mother, who was seen walking breathlessly along Lyndhurst Road towards the church, said she too was at home when her sister told her about the fire.

“Mi cry from Spanish Town come straight a Half-Way-Tree and come straight down,” the mother said.

The mother of eight told the Observer that four of her children have been living at the facility for approximately one year.

She explained that the children were taken to the home after she left them at her home, with their father, to deliver back-to-school supplies to one of her sons living with her mother in Spanish Town.

She said that when she got to her mother's house it was raining and her mother suggested that she stay there until the following day.

“When mi wake the morning she asked me to look after something for her. When mi finish, my phone ring, somebody call mi say police gone with the children,” she said, adding that she is anticipating the return of her children.

Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his wife Juliet visited both locations.

The prime minister, who expressed sadness at the tragedy, said he has asked Floyd Green, the junior minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, to “review the policies and procedures to ensure that places of safety are actually safe places”.

Green told the Observer yesterday morning that three locations have been identified to relocate the wards.

However, he said the ministry is seeking to identify one location that will be able to house all 34.

“When children go through an experience like this it does form a bond, and they do cling to each other, so we are still looking for that option. But we do have an option that will give us three separate places, and what we will do in that circumstance is to keep siblings together and to move them in those groups,” Green said, adding that the children and the staff have been receiving counselling.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in whose St Andrew East Central constituency the home is located, visited the children yesterday morning and donated food items and toiletries to them.

He also pledged to donate $250,000 to facilitate the reconstruction of the building and urged the public to assist in whatever way they can.

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