Vanessa Wint, 16, hung herself with a sheet out of pure fear from being molested
Vanessa Wint’s death in the New Horizon Adult Correctional Centre on Wednesday night is a tragic end to the life of a teenager tormented by fear that an adult male who molested her would kill her parents if she told them about the heinous crime.
Sixteen-year-old Vanessa was found hanging in a section of the remand centre with a sheet around her neck by correctional staff who were doing their usual rounds. They believe she committed suicide.
Yesterday, her uncle Javette Nixon insisted that the country’s justice and correctional systems are ultimately responsible for Vanessa’s death and her relatives want to head off any attempt to cover any possible misdeeds on the part of the correctional authorities.
“We would like a full investigation into what led to her death. A clear path to justice must be created and the persons responsible for her death be held accountable. There must be no cover-up,” Nixon told the Jamaica Observer.
He said that Vanessa had committed no crime, although she repeatedly ran away from home out of fear for the safety of her parents and informed counsellors that she was molested by an adult male who lived in the same apartment complex where she resided and who threatened to kill her parents if she told anyone about her ordeal.
“Her mother sought counselling and tried to get her in a special school for children with behavioural problems. She was trying to open up and told counsellors that a man who lived in the apartment complex was molesting her and threatened to kill her parents and that she ran away because she did not want harm to come to them,” Nixon said.
The accused child molester has never been interrogated or arrested by the authorities.
Last night, Vanessa’s mother Simone Wint corroborated her brother’s statements and said her only daughter was only able to start talking about the molestation this summer, three years after her ordeal.
“She said she was tired of keeping it inside, but she also said she was afraid to trust people,” Simone Wint said. “I told her that I would be a tower of strength for her, that I would be here for her.”
Vanessa first fled from her home in 2009 and was picked up by the police, then taken before the Family Court where a judge ordered that she be committed to State care for three years. She was locked up inside the ill-fated Armadale home in St Ann where she managed to survive a deadly fire which killed seven female wards of the State that same year.
She was then transferred to the Stony Hill Girls Home until the three years had been completed.
Shortly after being returned to the care of her parents, Vanessa again took to the streets, was picked up by the cops and again dragged before the Family Court which sent her back into State care.
This time she was taken from a place of safety after two weeks and was placed inside the Fort Augusta prison for women with hardened criminals in June last year.
The Department of Correctional Services then transferred her to the New Horizon penal facility in March this year.
“We have no explanation why she was in an adult criminal institution,” Nixon said.
He was also upset that although her relatives had gone to seek answers from Correctional staff yesterday, it took hours for anyone at the New Horizon facility to attend to them.
“We went down there from 9:00 am and spoke to no one until after 12:00. We stood outside the facility in limbo. The way they dealt with the situation is unconscionable,” he said.
When contacted, head of the Correctional Services Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast said the New Horizon staff are mandated to follow strict security procedures but that was no excuse for leaving Vanessa’s grieving relatives standing in limbo for hours, if their claim was true.
“I am investigating those claims, and if they were left standing in the sun that was inappropriate,” Prendergast said.
However, his words were of little consolation to Nixon.
“She was the only daughter for her mother. Her mother is more than inconsolable. If she was in that facility, why wasn’t care taken that she was protected? The whole thing doesn’t sound right to me,” he said.
He said the child’s mother visited her on Saturday and was told by Vanessa that she was informed that an investigation was being carried out into the molestation claim.
Last night, her mother lamented the fact that she is yet to see her daughter’s body.
Vanessa’s death is being investigated by the Denham Town Police, the Independent Commission of Investigation and the Office of the Children’s Advocate.
Yesterday, human rights group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), which is headed by Carolyn Gomes, strongly condemned the fact that teen was placed in an adult lock-up.
“Jamaicans For Justice demands that all children are removed from police lock-ups and adult correctional facilities now. Jamaicans For Justice demands that the relevant ministers, the Children’s Advocate and the Child Development Agency start to obey the law and provide the protection for our children that is their mandate. No more children must die before those responsible for their protection properly carry out their duty to these children,” a release from the JFJ said.
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