Sun | Aug 14, 2022

‘I need answers’

Clarendon matriarch says grief hard to bear as PM visits, pledges support

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2022 | 12:06 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking with Gwendolyn McKnight, whose daughter and four grandchildren were killed in the Clarendon massacre on June 21 in New Roads, Cocoa Piece.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking with Gwendolyn McKnight, whose daughter and four grandchildren were killed in the Clarendon massacre on June 21 in New Roads, Cocoa Piece.

“I just want to see him face to face to ask him, ‘Why? Why him do it?’ I need answers,” said a grieving Gwendolyn McKnight yesterday as Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited the mother of 31-year-old Kemesha Wright, who was killed along with her four children on June 21 in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon.

McKnight’s 23-year-old nephew Rushane Barnett has been charged with the heinous crime.

McKnight, a mother of four, said that the grief at the loss of her only daughter and all four of her grandchildren gets harder to bear daily.

“I have one and only daughter and she gave me four lovely grandchildren. Mi not even have any more grandchildren fi look pan,” said McKnight, the pain evident on her face.

The bodies of Wright and her four children – Kimanda Smith, 15; Sharalee Smith, 12; and five-year-old Rafaella Smith; and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr – were discovered at home with chop wounds and their throats slashed on June 21.

McKnight theorised that her daughter was dealt a raw deal by her willingness to assist the accused by offering the accused a place to stay in the north central Clarendon community.

“I was trying to help ... and this is what I get,” she bemoaned.

Yesterday, Holness said that the Government will be assisting the family with funeral arrangements.

“It’s the least we can do,” he said, as he offered condolences to the bereaved relatives.

“There will be multiple agencies assisting, so I think the funeral and the associated costs will be well taken care of, but there is a kind of emptiness that no matter what we do, it just cannot remove the stain on us – on us all – because this murder is an assault on all our sensibilities,” he added. “And even though it is a family within a family, it has really happened in the Jamaican family because we, as a country, have normalised the use of violence.”

Anti-violence programme

The prime minister said that the Government will also be fast-tracking programmes to address violence within society.

“I am not going to allow it to get any worse than it is now, and we have decided to do is to fast-track our anti-violence programme,” said Holness.

He added that while the Government has developed and executed crime-fighting strategies such as improved policing, improved capabilities of the Jamaica Defence Force, and the use of enhance security measures, “there is a another dimension to the plan, and that is to control and reduce the use of violence, so we did put in place, a commission to look at violence, to study the pathology of violence in Jamaica, and to report to the Government as to what measures the Government can take”.

He said that the Government should be in receipt of the report shortly and is prepared to act accordingly.

Holness added that the Cocoa Piece massacre was a stark reminder of the inclusion of violence in all social interactions.

“We use violence to discipline our children and all we do is to teach them that the only way to get things done is to use aggression and violence. We use violence in intimate partner relationships as a means of domination and power and between family and neighbours and that must change,” he said. “The Jamaican people have to not just confront the murderer, but we also have to confront ourselves as to how we have come to normalise and accept violence.”

olivia.brown@gleanerjm.com