In the rural community of Top Hill, St Catherine, the atmosphere is cool and the people usually live a carefree life as far as crime is concerned.
The shots, fired a year ago, however, changed virtually everything.
One of the survivors, who still can’t believe he is alive, said the deadly bar robbery that unfolded in a section of Top Hill known as Cock Crow is forever etched in his mind.
“Memories come back,” he told The Beacon. “I try to cope with it and not allow it to distract me. Whenever I heard firecrackers during Christmas the other day, the gunshots came back to my mind.”
The survivor, who we call *Mark Gray, explained that he was in a bar with a few persons when he heard an explosion in the vicinity of the business establishment.
Most patrons immediately ran out of the bar.
“I heard something and thought it was firecrackers,” said Gray, who disclosed that he was among four people who remained inside the bar.
“By the time I looked outside the bar, it was a gunman turning the gun on me and saying ‘pu#$y don’t look round’,” Gray recalled.
He further said there were two gunmen, but they were wearing pullovers that prevented him from seeing their faces.
Gray explained that he, along with the three other men trapped inside the bar, was ordered to lay on the floor of the business establishment.
“To how they had us as hostage; you couldn’t take any look; you couldn’t too pree dem,” Gray said.
The gunmen then took whatever they could find in the victims’ pockets.
Gray, who was not injured, said he smelled blood in his mouth while he was lying face-down on the bar floor.
“I was smelling my blood in my mouth, and wondering if dem going to kill me. I was having all types of consideration because I didn’t know what was their next move. I couldn’t read their minds or know what they were about.”
Gray further stated that, moments later, he noticed that the gunmen were gone.
He was shell-shocked and traumatized.
Gray later noticed that one of the men in the bar was still lying on his face when everyone else was on their feet.
The person still down turned out to be 35-year-old Omar Newton – the only person who died as a result of the gun attack. Another man, who was shot and wounded in the vicinity of the bar, was treated at hospital and released.
Gray told The Beacon that, because everything happened fast, he did not see how Newton ended up being shot.
“Mi never know seh him get the shot. Is when everybody lay down and when it was time to get up, everybody else get up, I see pure blood.”
The Jamaica Constabulary Force said Newton, who could neither speak nor hear, was shot when he did not comply with the gunmen’s command for him to lay on the floor.
But Gray, upon reflection, thinks the gunmen shot Newton before they entered the bar.
He said he smoked about 40 cigarettes shortly after he realized that he had survived the ordeal.
“I smoked about 40 cigarettes; all now mi can’t believe. I feel traumatized; it is like I am living in a state of nervousness. Right now, I am very scared. I don’t trust anyone because I don’t know what is what,” Gray further told The Beacon.
Meanwhile, the tension and fear that gripped the Top Hill community a year ago have morphed into heightened caution.
Residents rarely speak about the incident and, when they do, they speak in hushed tones. They still hold the view that someone living in the community brought the gunmen into the area to commit the robbery, and what turned out to be the first murder to have been reported in the village in modern times.
The first anniversary of the incident passed virtually unnoticed on January 13.
The bar where the gunmen struck is back in full swing.
The pain perhaps would have been harder felt in Top Hill, had the deceased victim been from there.
He actually hails from the neighbouring community of Pennington.
On the night of the gun attack, Newton was attending a nine night in Top Hill, but made a fateful stop at the bar while he and friends walked back home to Pennington.
He died at the University Hospital of the West Indies on February 23, and was laid to rest on 11 March 2018 in Pennington district.
Meanwhile, residents of Pennington, a year later, still lament the murder of one of their own. They said Newton was loved and treated with special care, adding that his inability to hear and speak did not diminish his intelligence.
A minor who was arrested and charged for the deadly shooting is – a year later, still before the court. He is from the Linstead area of St Catherine.
EDITORIAL NOTE: *Mark Gray is not the survivor’s real name.
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