“This is very sad….” This is how the Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM), Sharon Mangroo described the incident in which students of the Rose Hill RC, East Dry River were traumatised by the loud sound of rapid gunfire on Monday, October 31 around 1.45 p.m. though gunshots were also heard in the vicinity at 9 a.m.
A video circulating online showed pupils lying on the ground, heads propped on their arms and a female teacher instructing them to be silent. One child is heard speaking to the teacher who told her to “just remain down and calm”. She was heard whispering to the children to “be quiet” as she went to see what was happening in the corridor. However, before she could do this, there was another volley of gunshots. The teacher was heard asking the children if they were okay.
Mangroo was able to confirm the recording originated from the infant classes, she stated, “…all the students in the school were similarly impacted.”
She mentioned another video, apart from the one minute and 54 second video in circulation. Mangroo shared this video with Catholic News. “The other one sounds worse,” she said, adding “… the noise is more, the gunshots are louder.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Mangroo said the incident left staff and all 90 students traumatised. One student had an asthma attack.
She was in the process of writing to the Chief Education Officer at the Ministry of Education with a proposal to temporarily relocate the staff and students to a building at the St Dominic’s Home compound, located at 34B Belmont Circular Road, until the Ministry of National Security “can put something in place”. She anticipates this move to begin as early as next week.
“This is not sustainable, so we have to get something in place to ensure the safety of the children. We can’t keep these children out of school,” she said.
The students and staff were encouraged not to return to school the following day. The principal has since proposed online schooling for the rest of week “as they needed to recover from the trauma”.
There are also plans to arrange transportation to “bring the children safely in the [new] building,” and for students to receive trauma counselling.
According to Mangroo, Monday’s incident was the second in two weeks in which students were forced to seek cover and hide under their desks.
“Two Fridays ago, was the same thing. Monday, we heard those shots in the Catholic Board. As soon as we heard the shots, we knew it was Rose Hill,” Mangroo said.
She explained students have been “trained” to respond to gunfire. “They have done a lot of drills how to deal with a situation like that. So, the children know what to do. The staff and students of Rose Hill RC started drills in September.
“But two Friday’s ago, it was not a drill. There was a similar, though not as intense incident,” she said.
There was a drill two weeks prior to Monday’s shooting.
There are three primary schools in the Laventille environs, two of which are Catholic: Rose Hill RC, and Our Lady of Laventille RC.
Of the proposed move to the St Dominic’s Home compound, Mangroo explained that the building requires repairs. There’s a leak in the roof. “We will appreciate any donations to assist,” she said.
She mentioned the compound is also being used to temporarily house another school, St Philip’s Government since 2018.
Rose Hill RC is not the only school being constantly affected by gunfire. Both Bethlehem Boys’ and Girls’ RC encounter similar situations “where children have to take cover.”
She added, “the general public would comment why some schools are not doing well. Well, you will understand these students are not in a frame of mind to do any serious learning. They are looking at self-preservation,” Mangroo said.
Questioned on the anticipated response from parents and students on the proposed move, Mangroo commented, “The parents don’t know as yet.”
Last Friday, October 28, a delegation comprising a parent of Rose Hill RC met with the CEBM pleading for help “in the insecurity they are suffering.” Parents, Mangroo said, have already begun not sending their charges to school. “Their children were crying they felt very unsafe.”
Mangroo mentioned that the parent who visited the building ultimately “welcomed” the idea.
“They want their children at school, and they want their children alive. I think they [will] welcome the idea and we will need assistance urgently to move furniture from the school to the new location,” she said.