Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB is speaking out on the murders of teenage cousins Isaiah and Joel Henry, ages 16 and 19 and the aftershocks of the deaths of others.
In a statement to Catholic Standard, Bishop Alleyne described the September 5 double murder as “tragic and senseless deaths” that has rocked the nation.
“No one would be more shaken than the parents and families of the victims by the sudden separation from their loved one’s compound by the gruesome means by which they met their demise. First and foremost, our prayers, condolences and empathy go out to these families,” he said, according to the diocesan weekly report.
Guyana Chronicle reported that both bodies bore several chop wounds. Isaiah had the letter ‘X’ carved on the back of his head and forehead, while Joel’s chest was cut open. A 57-year-old man has since been arrested.
However, a NY Times article said that the discovery of the mutilated bodies of the two Black teenagers in an agricultural area populated predominantly by Indo-Guyanese and the apparent September 9 reprisal killing of a third—17-year-old Indo-Guyanese Haresh Singh, grandson of the suspect—“have plunged Guyana into its worst racial unrest in years coming just weeks after the nation emerged from a disputed election that had deeply divided its two dominant groups over the country’s newfound oil wealth.”
Another Indo-Guyanese man was beaten to death after opening fire on protesters later that day, the police said.
Local news reports said that groups representing Afro-Guyanese immediately labelled the Henry killings a hate crime and called on supporters to protest. Hundreds of Afro-Guyanese residents took to the streets in the northeastern Berbice region where the murders took place, blocking roads, burning trucks, and attacking Indo-Guyanese passers-by and businesses.
The NY Times article also reported that President Irfaan Ali, who took office in August, said he would call on Britain and Caribbean nations to help investigate the killings to ensure impartiality.
In his statement, Bishop Alleyne observed while the national outrage has been channelled into peaceful expressions of protestation, grief, and solidarity with the families, he has also seen responses that have been violent, irresponsible, divisive, and exploitative.
He hoped that the words of Jesus would fall on the whole nation to call on attitudes and actions that would express protection and care affirmation for each other.
Meanwhile, Fr Carl Philadelphia, Parish Administrator for the Church of Ascension, New Amsterdam and Guardian Angels, Hope Town, also issued two statements condemning the three murders.
He began: “I believe that ‘Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end’.” (2258, Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Fr Philadelphia said while he shared the outrage of their friends and neighbours, he urged citizens not to allow themselves to be provoked to seek retaliation against those who they may think are responsible.
“We must not fall into a never-ending cycle of violence and murder. Neither a bruise for a bruise nor an eye for an eye, nor a hand for a hand, nor a wound for a wound, nor a life for a life will bring true justice,” he said.
Individuals, faith-based organisations, civil society and other members of the national community have all called for calm. Statements from the Assemblies of God, the Guyana Human Rights Association, the Ethnic Relations Commission, and the Citizenship Initiative appeared in the Catholic Standard.