Religious leaders, including priests and lay ministers in Laventille and environs, are very fearful and exercise extreme caution about what they say to their congregations because gunmen often sit among the mourners armed with weapons, and priests feel threatened by that.
Retired lay minister at the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Main Road, Laventille, Wendell Noel, said he had to stop his sermons during two separate funeral services because men allegedly pulled guns and pointed them at him when he spoke about gangs and criminal activivity in the community.
“These people have even lost their respect for God and the church because they come in there with their guns and sit, listening, and if anything is said off guard they are not afraid to pull out their guns and threaten you with it. This happened to me not once but twice, in the church. They attack you regardless of who you are and I as a lay minister then,” Noel said.
Noel, 64, grew up in Laventille and has Laventille close to his heart but after he suffered a stroke, which almost took his life, he was forced to leave Laventille and retire at an undisclosed location in east Trinidad.
Noel himself has been a victim of crime while in the Laventille area. One Sunday morning at about 5.15 several years ago, he was on his way to church when he was held up at gunpoint by four men.
“These people have no respect for no one. They have lost all respect and it is very disturbing to know that those two schoolboys have been killed in such a manner. We cannot go on living like this,” Noel said.
Asked if none of the churches were making an impact, Noel replied: “Everyone has become fearful. I do not know and I cannot say if the church is penetrating society but this is my personal expression, it is how I feel about the increasing crime situation and based upon things that are said to me in confidence by people who crime affects.”
Noel also lost his nephew, Paul, a few months ago. He was shot nine times. “I am all in pain because just like the schoolboys, my nephew was never involved in gangs and criminal activities. Although he used to lime and hang out late he was an innocent young man.”
Noel, however, disagrees with Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s statement that witnesses who stay silent on incidents are unpatriotic. He said there was a lot of distrust and mistrust.
“Trust is something important and people do not trust the police anymore to look into situations. I sympathise for those who are trying and helping up there, but people can’t go into one another’s streets and they can’t walk the road in peace anymore,” Noel said.
Noel called for a gun amnesty or for the resumption of the death penalty by hanging. “Maybe when the Government shows that people committing murders will be hanged it may make a difference.”
Joint police and army patrols were also seen on the hilly, winding, and narrow streets of Laventille.
However, one resident, who wished not to be identified, expressed scepticism. “I only hope that once them two boys are buried that they do not stop those army and police patrols.
“This is what is needed up here in Laventille for law and order to be restored and for the youths to know how seriously they would be dealt with,” the resident added.
Pensioner Perris Evangelist, 81, said since she heard about the killings she has felt very sick and was even thinking about packing up and leaving the area.
Another resident, who wished not to be identified, said fear has engulfed everyone in the community, topped by lack of trust in the police.
“When something happen the army and police out here in abundance and after a week or two, everything is back to normal. Look after the killing police come and carry out raids and as soon as they left the area shots buss out and shots keep bussing out all the time,” the resident said.
“I think the soldiers and them know what to do to keep the crime down but it’s just that they not doing it,” he added.
“When people see police officers communicating with certain bad people and having some kind of relationships with them, how you really expect them to go to the police to give any information of the sort in relation to crime? That is asking to be killed. But this issue and concern is far gone now for any kind of trust to be restored among the people, that is why people will remain silent. It is not that they not patriotic but they want to live,” the resident said.