…Nurse’s family cries for justice
By Lakhram Bhagirat
The William Gladstone’s quote “Justice delayed is justice denied” seems apt in the case of Nurse Schenise Apple, according to her family. It has been one year now since the family has been fighting tooth and nail to bring her killers to justice, but it looks as though the very system that is supposed to support them is the very system that is currently working against them.
On July 2, 2019, the lifeless body of the 26-year-old was found hanging in the Nurses’ Hostel by her colleagues just about 18:15h. It was initially suspected that she committed suicide, but from the inception, her family believed otherwise.
After a post-mortem examination, the young woman’s death was ruled as a homicide. However, to date, the Police are yet to make an arrest or appraise the family of the status of the investigation.
The Sunday Times Magazine sat down with Apple’s mother, Shonette Apple, and she expressed her frustration with the handling of her daughter’s death. This would be the first time, according to the still distraught mother, that she was publicly speaking about her daughter’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.
“They don’t respect young women, they don’t. Her life just went down just like that. I need justice. I need closure. They know who did it. There is nobody above against the law. Nobody should be covering for nobody. You do the crime, face the time. I don’t care who you are, you must face your consequences. Not because you working in a big job, you must not face the consequences. I just need justice, and without justice, I will not stop and will continue to fight. Enough is enough. My daughter was drugged, raped, and murdered — I know that,” the grieving mother said.
Recounting what transpired one year ago, Shonette said that she spoke to Schenise on July 1, 2019 while she was working. Her daughter said, during what would be their last conversation, that it was quite busy at work and she would ‘talk later’. Later came and went, but Shonette waited. She initially dismissed the gut feeling of something being wrong, and amounted her daughter’s failure to return the call to exhaustion from all the work.
However, when 05:00h on July 2, 2019 came and passed and there was no word from Schenise, her mother began to worry. She called several times and sent text messages, but no response. The same day she had business to conduct in Georgetown so she left the family’s Linden home in the company of her son.
The feelings of uneasiness overcame her by the time they reached the capital city and she could not function. She did not bother to go about doing any business and instead ventured back to Linden with her son. When they arrived at home, she was still uneasy and paced around trying to get ahold of Schenise.
She called Schenise’s colleague with whom she had contact owing to previous meetings, but all the calls went unanswered. She then asked her other daughter whether Schenise had contacted her or vice versa, but got a negative response.
“My daughter asked for the colleague number and I gave it to her. The first ring and she answered the phone and my daughter said ‘man, I am just calling to find out where my sister is’ and she said — well, I couldn’t hear, but this was told to me that she said ‘Schenise is dead.’ All I see is my daughter clutching her stomach,” Shonette related.
Seeing her daughter becoming pale and clutching her stomach intensified the uneasiness in Shonette. She became frantic and started to shake her daughter trying to elicit a response. What Shonette next heard knocked the wind out of her and all she could have done was let out a bloodcurdling scream.
She does not remember anything that happened immediately after that, except that she bawled and bawled. She had questions and wanted answers, but first she called Schenise’s father, Dexter Copeland and told him what had happened.
Schenise was posted to the Mahdia Hospital from Linden Hospital Complex back in November of 2018 as part of her contract. Her family was not happy with the decision, but was assured by the Public Health Ministry that their child would be safe. They relented, but had they known it would have resulted in her death, they would have fought for her to stay.
Later in the night of that fateful day July 2, a young woman visited the family and showed them photos of Schenise hanging. Shonette knew that her child was not capable of taking her own life, so she had even more questions.
“After that, nobody from the Ministry (of Health), from Mahdia (Hospital), no Nurse, no Matron, no Sister, nobody hasn’t contacted me to this day. Nobody called and said your daughter died or what not. I am so disappointed. I am so upset with the system that they have,” Shonette lamented.
On July 3, the family was prepared to venture into Mahdia to retrieve Schenise’s body, but was advised against it and a promise was made that it would be brought out early in the morning. The body arrived in Georgetown after midday and the family identified Schenise and an autopsy was scheduled.
“Me and her dad, we saw her body and she had a mark around her neck and it was raw (because of her fairness you could see). She had marks on her hand like someone hold her down and there were hand marks between her thighs. You could see the hands that squeezed her. There wasn’t any other thing.”
Shonette’s suspicions of foul play were further compounded when a junior pathologist saw the body and said the injuries were inconsistent with those of a suicide. That pathologist encouraged the family to return on July 5, 2019 for the autopsy, since a senior pathologist would conduct it owing to legal reasons.
The family travelled back to Linden and returned to Georgetown on Friday, July 5, 2019 to witness the post-mortem examination. However, when they got there, they were not allowed to witness the examination being conducted by Government Pathologist Dr Nehaul Singh. After the examination was concluded, a Police Officer approached the family and showed them some photos of cuts on Schenise’s hands, but the family related that those injuries were not there two days prior.
“We eventually left and went to the F Division with the same Police and another one. We spoke to a Mr Henry and related our dissatisfaction with whatever transpired, and he listened to us and he asked if we wanted to give a statement and we refused. We refused because we were bitter, we were angry with the system and everything and then knowing we left our daughter on Wednesday with no cuts, to come back Friday with cuts on her body. I don’t understand that and as I said, I am so disappointed with everything,” she related.
The family also tried to meet with Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence, but she refused to entertain them. In fact, she only met with the family after they began venting their frustrations on social media and in the press. Those reports would have reached her and she immediately travelled to Linden to meet with the family.
However, Shonette says she feels disrespected by the way in which Lawrence chose to meet with them. She summoned the family to the Regional Democratic Council in Linden, where she tried to water down the family’s allegations of rape and murder. In fact, she told the family that the autopsy proved that Schenise was not raped and her death was suicide.
At that time, the family had not yet gotten access to the autopsy report. After they related that, Lawrence instructed Schenise’s father to uplift the report in Georgetown and when it was uplifted, the family discovered that there were some discrepancies. The doctors initially placed the time of death at 01:00h, but later changed that to 06:00h, with the ‘6’ ending up looking like a ‘b’.
“As far as I am concerned, there was some cookery trying to go down there,” Shonette charged.
At the time of the meeting, Lawrence also promised a full inquest into the young nurse’s death, but to date it seems as though the inquest is yet to take flight.
When the Sunday Times Magazine contacted Public Health Ministry Public Relations Officer Terrence Esseboom, he directed this publication to the Chief Nursing Officer, Linda Johnson for a position on the inquest, but Johnson said she had no idea about the inquest. In turn, she directed us to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Collette Adams. However, when the Sunday Times Magazine contacted Adams’ office, we were told that she was unavailable.
Shonette related that the Police only contacted her on Tuesday, for the first time, for a statement and it now seems that the investigation is commencing, but efforts to contact the Regional Police Commander, Ramesh Ashram proved futile.
The family is adamant that Schenise was raped and then murdered and her suicide staged, and wants the authorities to take the investigation seriously. Shonette also related that she was aware of the attempts to cover up the murder, but she would continue fighting tooth and nail until justice is served.
She posited that the Police should begin right back in Mahdia, since one of Schenise’s colleagues was using her phone the night her body was discovered. She related that the female colleague was using the phone to text relatives telling them how much she loved them and impersonating Schenise – whose body had already been removed from the scene at that time.
On the first anniversary of her death, Schenise’s father wrote an open letter to the authorities pleading for justice.
“Overall, it has been one year since my daughter’s death and we are still in a state of limbo concerning this matter. The extreme duress my family has endured since my daughter’s death has been compounded by the lack of concern by the Ministry of Public Security, [which] is upsetting. Also, the lack of attention by the Hon Minister Volda Lawrence. The health-care family deserves better treatment, and I hope you will look into the situation to see that the suffering caused upon Nurse Schenise Apple is never again inflicted on health-care workers, and to ensure that a similar incident doesn’t occur again,” he said in his letter.
He also called for the Government to provide better security systems for buildings such as the one his daughter was staying in.
Meanwhile, her sister in tribute wrote: “It hurts the most, because it’s already a year since I called your batch mate or the one that was supposed to be your batch mate in Mahdia…I called her and asked of you, she answered and said, ‘Schenise is dead!’ I was shocked, could not have even delivered the message.”
Following Schenise’s death, her nursing colleagues have staged protests demanding justice; one year later, they’re yet to see it.