November 27, 2020

WAS IT MURDER?

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Justin’s family call for police investigation

The family is still trying to come to terms with the death, trying to make sense of what happened, and wondering what police are doing to investigate 16-year-old Justin Henry’s drowning.

Hurt and bewildered, a cousin even suggests murder: “He may have been pushed. He told a boy he was too tired to jump again. Maybe, knowing it was dangerous, and not for him, that’s what he said to get out of it. If he were pushed … well, that’s called murder.

”Where were the police? Aren’t they professional divers? Don’t they have lights and boats and are able to search at night? If they had, they would have found him. It may have been a bit risky, but isn’t that what they are paid for?”

Sitting on the front porch of their Rock Hole home on Wednesday, only 24 hours after police found Justin’s body in 39 feet of water, 50 yards off the cliffs at Pedro Castle, his grandmother, sisters and cousins could only wonder – and worry – and speculate — and hope.

“We are trying to figure it out, to know what happened,” said grandmother Dorothy, 59, dark-haired, thickset, occupying a corner of the porch at a modest table. Behind her, a gold-ornamented Christmas tree perches on a table, leaving just enough space to enter the doorway to the sitting room and, beyond, Justin’s bedroom.

Miss Dorothy has seen more than one death in the family.

“It’s 12 years to the day that cousin Robert died. He was killed on a motorbike on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway. I think he was the first accident on the highway,” she said.

Grandson Akim, Justin’s little brother, died 10 years ago at the age of only 5 months, from double pneumonia.

“Three daughters and grandmother are all that’s left now,” said a cousin. “There was never a father, and for a boy raised by two women, Justin came out pretty good. He was a sweet child, one of the sweetest.”

He was a student in his last year at the Further Education Centre, she said, “and his grades were good”, while working part time at Superior Dry Wall.

In the late afternoon of Boxing Day, Justin and four friends — three women and a younger male — were cliff jumping at the Pedro Castle bluffs when the 16-year-old disappeared.

“They were not his regular friends, “said one of the family. “We don’t know who the company was that were with him. He told his mother he was going to Kaibo, and within an hour-and-a-half of leaving home, he was at Pedro – and then we got a call that someone was missing.”

As the young male searched among the rocks, the girls called police, who appeared between 30 minutes and 45 minutes later.

When a boat and helicopter search yielded nothing, and the hunt was called off, the family knew it was trouble.

“We all went over there and we couldn’t get any information. Everyone had left,” said another of the family. “I spoke to the boy and he was disoriented. He didn’t know if he was in the water or not, or with Justin or not. He said at one point he tried to help, but had to let him go because he was too big to handle.”

Police and family accounts diverge at that point. Police say the search resumed at first light, divers and boats assembling at 6:30 to map a plan.

“We were out there at 6:30, 7:00, and it was just the family,” a cousin said. “No one else was there. That’s why he was never found until 9:30.

“We don’t have knowledge of him going there before, but, knowing Justin, I can’t imagine him, knowing the dangers, jumping in,” she said. Confusion, disorientation, contradiction, the family is beset, fielding questions as neighbours and friends cross the small yard to hang over the porch wall. Sisters Jesanna, 22, Janaya, 11 and Jahsara, 5, drift in and out. Mother Lisa, 40, is at the Cayman Islands Hospital, signing a release so undertakers can organise a ceremony.

Both she and Miss Dorothy are recently familiar with the hospital, admitted the night of the accident with high blood pressure from the upset and stress, unlikely to ease in the
coming days.

“It’s an unexpected expense and times are difficult,” said a family friend, speculating on the price of a funeral and the parlour that will mount it.

“Bodden or Churchill’s, it doesn’t really matter who does it,” offers another. “He’s going to the same place.”

“He was an obedient boy, and not a rude child, “ a cousin said. “If we had told him not to go there, he never would have gone. But he was a teenager, and when parents don’t want you to do something, they’ll find a way.”

Miss Dorothy shows off a seven-foot case packed with Justin’s trophies, most earned for his football, although one is from the Cricket Association.

“He played for the Cayman Athletic Sports Club. It was on his t-shirt when he jumped in,” said one sister, displaying his red-and-blue number 21. “He mostly wore 14, though.”

John Gray awarded Justin “Sports Day Champion Boy” earlier this year, the athletic club awarded him as “team member” for the under-17 national unit in 2010-2011; the Football Association named him “Defender of the Year” on its under-15 team in 2009-2010 and he was the Cricket Association’s “Man of the Year” in 2008. “I can’t even close this,” said Miss Dorothy, stuffing ribbons and medallions back into their brimming box.

“He was in the George Town Primary league as well,” offered another cousin. “Football was his life. He was injured a couple of times. He broke his foot once and it was the worst days of his life. He couldn’t play. He was crying with frustration.

“They should make swimming there illegal,” she said. “Fence it off and put signs around. Then, if you go in, you know it’s at your own risk.”

Told that police had earlier in the morning proposed exactly that, she repeated the information to the rest of the group.

Perhaps the move is overdue. Joint Marine Unit statistics attest to the danger: Since 2003, four rescue missions have been mounted to the area, saving seven people. Three deaths have been recorded: March 2003, November 2009 and Justin’s Boxing Day tragedy. Since July, police have speculated – albeit never proved — that missing 25-year-old Jamaican Kerran Baker may have been pushed into the water.

His 17th birthday, on 24 February, promises to be a somber occasion.

“He was the oldest and the strongest of them all — and now he’s gone,” said Miss Dorothy.

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