Grandma regrets child not staying with her, as she wanted

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MONDAY October 19, 2020 — National Heroes’ Day — will remain etched in the memory of Christine Bentley.

She is the maternal grandmother of 15-year-old Sanique Leachman, whose body was found yesterday morning, buried under mud and debris following a land slippage in Shooters Hill, St Andrew, on Friday.

Sanique’s father, 42-year-old landscaper Romeo Leachman, also perished in the mudslide. His body was found buried in rubble on Friday.

Bentley told the Jamaica Observer that when young Leachman visited her last Monday she wanted to stay but her father insisted that she should return home.

“Mi just wish when she come home Monday mi hold on pon her. She never waa leave and say, ‘Please mek mi stay’. But her father called and said, ‘No, come home’. When she reach up she call and say, ‘Grandma mi love yuh’ and mi say, ‘Mi love yuh too, Sanique’. Mi wish mi could turn back,” Bentley moaned yesterday.

But, according to Shooters Hill residents, on Friday around 8:00 am, a land slippage claimed the lives of the father, who had resided at the location for over 20 years, and his daughter, his only child for whom he has been the primary caregiver since she was a toddler.

When the Sunday Observer visited the area yesterday, a tractor was seen clearing debris pushed down by a landslide from the main road which had cut off a section of the community. A small trek up muddied hills and through small settlements brought the Sunday Observer news team to the area where tragedy struck.

The only physical memories of the humble abode were clothing strewn throughout the yard, and a young banana tree that residents used to indicate where the house destroyed by the mudslide once stood.

Residents also reported that at the time of the unfortunate occurrence, the youngster, a student of The Queen’s School also in St Andrew, would have been online in her virtual classroom. Though there was no confirmation of her being online, the area where her body was found also had literature books, indicating that she was either in class or in preparation mode for class.

Her paternal grandmother Beverly Binns, who stood shaking while reflecting on Sanique’s life, said her last conversation with her only son Romeo and her granddaughter was her encouraging Sanique to have her father give her a call.

“It’s my only son. Mi talk to Sanique the Thursday and from last week I was telling her to tell her father to call me but him no call mi, him nuh call mi. Mi dun man, mi dun. Mi just a shake,” she said while clutching her walking stick and fighting back tears.

Juliet Leachman, the deceased sister and aunt, was overcome with grief and questioned why neighbours had built a wall on the banking where the house once stood.

“Mi brother beg dem all the while. Yuh cya build wall inna banking. The banking a supm’n weh keep sliding,” she said while also reminiscing on her son-in-law who passed away in July, the same day she welcomed her granddaughter into the world.

Further, the family and community members remembered Sanique as a promising girl who was focused, and whose father ensured she was nurtured and sheltered.

“She was a nice little girl. Him grow her from she deh basic school. Him no lef her and now dem deh together. God, yuh couldn’t spare one?” Leachman asked.

Sanshea Waller, her cousin, said, “She was promising. She very mannerly, go Queen’s and just focused on her books.”

One of the neighbours said, her fondest memory was that each morning at 5:00, when physical school was in session, her father would accompany her to the bus stop to see her off to school and meet her if she got home late.

The man most proud was the one who never stopped digging until Sanique was found. He identified himself as Ninja and said Sanique was loved by everyone in the community and subsequently he ensured the best effort was put out to retrieve her from the rubble.

“Me mek sure me come out yesterday. This morning again we come out after five. Mi not even drink tea as me say me nah lef till mi find her. The whole team come after 7:00 am and the whole of us just gang and we find her. We feel proud inna wi self. The whole community feel proud to know say we find her and everything alright. It was very difficult to find her. All of the stuff from up the top run come down so we had to dig about nine feet before we could find her. We feel good, everybody feel good,” Ninja said.

But, the ire of the community was drawn towards the rescue team from the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), whom they claimed abandoned the search efforts from 5:00 pm on Friday and did not return until minutes to 11 yesterday morning.

“From morning dem shoulda come assist we, nothing from morning? I’ve been here from 7:30 am . It’s my cousin, she under there but it come in like a mi daughter underneath there. Dem slack. Now it’s 10:30 and they don’t reach yet,” Waller said.

Ninja added: “The fireman work is a 24 hours work and if we never push out the effort from yesterday morning to now, this work wouldn’t done. The fireman dem reach here late, what the fireman should do from last night is get a floodlight and give us more energy that we can find the body. Today we just push out. They should [have] give us more hands as it is their part of work.”

However, Alrick Hacker, deputy commissioner in charge of operation at the JFB, said while he empathised with the bereaved, there’s not much that could have been done on Friday considering weather conditions and resource constraints.

“Not knowing the exact location where the girl would have been found, they would have to divide the area in grids and do a grid type search. There was no other way of discovering the location of the body unless you had some electronic device that could use echo sound and detect where the body would have been buried under the ground — as is used in earthquake-like scenarios. Nevertheless, the operations proceeded best based on the resources available. Yesterday, they continued up until nightfall when visibility was poor. The rain was coming heavily and they decided it was not safe to continue operations as you wouldn’t want another land slippage to take place and bury the rescue team and community workers,” Hacker said.

Meanwhile, he urged resident to relocate until the weather has changed and a proper assessment of the area has been done in the event another land slippage should occur. He also encouraged the community members to set up a watch committee to alert the JFB the moment such situations occur as in this situation the firemen were alerted long after the slippage took place.

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