WCB murders: Argentine expert requests documents to determine if assistance can be offered

Dr Luis Fondebrider interacting with Minister of Governance Gail Teixeira on Tuesday
Dr Luis Fondebrider interacting with Minister of Governance Gail Teixeira on Tuesday

By Lakhram Bhagirat

President of the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology (Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense-EAAF) Dr Luis Fondebrider on Tuesday met with Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn and police investigators where he requested a series of documents to determine whether his team would be in a position to offer assistance in the investigation of the murders of the West Coast Berbice (WCB) teens.

On September 6, 2020, the badly mutilated bodies of cousins Isaiah and Joel Henry were found in the backlands at West Coast Berbice after they had left their Number Three Village home to pick coconuts but did not return home. Then, on September 9, 2020, 17-year-old Haresh Singh was found murdered at the Number Three Village backlands in what was dubbed a retaliatory killing.

Dr Fondebrider arrived in Guyana on Saturday and met with the Singh and Henry families where he explained the scope of his organisation and how they may or may not be able to assist. He also visited the crime scenes where he gathered preliminary information.

On Tuesday, the forensic expert held a discussion at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception on Brickdam in Georgetown where he appraised persons of the work of the EAAF and the role they play as one of the foremost forensic teams in the world.

Following his presentation, during an interaction with the local media, Dr Fondebrider related that during his meeting with Minister Benn and the police he would have requested in excess of 20 pieces of documentation which would form the basis of his report.

He noted that if provided with the documents, he would be in a position to indicate whether it is viable for his team to come to Guyana and provide additional assistance to the Guyanese authorities.

He noted that this visit was one that is preliminary in nature since he is leaving today.

“I hope we can offer assistance to the Guyanese Government and the investigation because we have been working in many, many years doing this kind of job…I would be more than happy to cooperate and to review the case and work together with Guyanese scholars as well as to start a programme of training together with the Argentine Government through the Argentine Ambassador who is here with me,” he added.

Dr Fondebrider explained that a crime scene in the case of the teens would take at least one day or more to fully comb while the autopsy on each body would be a minimum of four to six hours following the Minnesota protocol which was established by the United Nations in the investigation of such crimes.

Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Benn told this publication on Tuesday night that the Government would be furnishing the expert team with the videos of the autopsies and that authorities have agreed to facilitate a meeting between Dr Fondebrider and Government Pathologist, Dr Nehaul Singh.

However, Dr Singh is in the Rupununi, Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) as of Tuesday.
“We are happy to work on general issues with the Argentine experts. We are pursuing the investigations diligently and working with security agents beyond the region. We don’t want to create more confusion, to allow the situation to deteriorate further,” the Minister said.

He added that the team informed the Argentine expert that if investigators need more assistance then they would consult with them.

EAAF, since its foundation in 1984, has worked in 55 countries.

The Caricom Regional Security Service (RSS) team already visited Guyana to assist the police with the investigation. The team made recommendations for more investigation but overall expressed their confidence in the ability of the Guyana Police Force to solve the case.

The five-member team, which was led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police and comprised officials from countries within the Regional Investigative Management Systems (RIMS), was in Guyana for one week and departed on October 6.

The team has since completed its report and handed it over to the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
The bodies of the Henry teens were found in clumps of bushes and partially covered in mud after relatives went in search of them on September 6.

Post-mortem examinations conducted revealed that the teenagers died from haemorrhage and shock. In the case of 16-year-old Isaiah, he sustained a severed spine between the second and third vertebrae and a number of chop wounds to his head.

The body of 19-year-old Joel had a total of 18 wounds. He, too, suffered a severed spine between the first and second vertebrae. It is believed that after sustaining wounds to the head, he fell to the ground and then got the wound that severed his spine.

The murders sparked protest action along the West Coast Berbice corridor, with persons blocking the roads and burning debris while calling for justice.

The situation escalated as protesters blocked traffic along the WCB roadway while robbing, beating and extorting innocent commuters. Millions of dollars were also lost as vehicles went up in flames.

As the unrest continued, 17-year-old Haresh Singh of Number Three Village, West Coast Berbice (WCB), was found dead hours after he had left home on his motorcycle to attend his family’s farm in the backdam.

It was reported that the sound of Haresh’s motorcycle stopped along the dam and shortly after, his family members saw a fire blazing on the dam. Suspicious that it was the motorcycle, relatives went to investigate and discovered the motionless body of the teenager and the torched motorbike.

The teen was bleeding through his nose and had wounds to his head, ears, neck and hands. According to the family, there was also an “X” on his neck. They then rushed the 17-year-old to the New Amsterdam Hospital, but he succumbed on the way.

Initially, it was suspected that Singh’s murder was in retaliation for the deaths of Isaiah and Joel since one of his close relatives were among those arrested after the cousins’ murder.

Meanwhile, Police had established that 16-year-old Isaiah and 19-year-old Joel Henry were not murdered in the location where their bodies were discovered.