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17 years on…By Enid JoaquinFebruary 17th, this year, marked exactly seventeen years to the date of one of the most horrendous tragedies to have occurred in the town of Linden.It was a day when the entire town was plunged into mourning, following the death of four school children, whose lives were snuffed out, after the bus they were travelling in exploded.Melissa WillsFRIENDS FOREVERThe four children that perished, nine year old Mellissa Wills, eight year old Dacia Alert, nine year old Chiaka McKinnon and eight year old Onica Best, were very good friends and school mates, and were students of the Mackenzie Primary School. On that fateful day, they were on a bus on their way home,Wholesale Football Jerseys, from what should have been a school tour. But the tour ended up being a ‘picnic’ on the Linden /Soesdyke highway, after their bus developed problems on the way to Georgetown.A Dodge Ram, called the ‘Cutty Ranks’, was driven to the scene to pull it.  The Dodge Ram was also defective. Someone had rigged up a bottle of gasoline in ‘Cutty Ranks’ vehicle. That individual had then inserted one end of a hose in the container of gasoline and used the hose as a makeshift fuel line leading to the engine.Someone then made the foolish and fatal decision to transfer some of the children to the Dodge Ram with the gasoline container.It was in the vicinity of Guyana Stores at Kara Kara that tragedy struck.BALL OF FIRESome boys that were playing football nearby were the first to get a glimpse of the horror that was taking shape. One of them had spotted a ball of fire at the bottom of the ill-fated Dodge Ram, as it stopped for some children to disembark.An alarm was immediately raised, but by the time people got to the bus, it was too late- it had exploded.A few fortunate children and a teacher made it to safety, but the four friends, who had been sitting together, would die together, even as they had played together; and because they were burnt beyond recognition,Custom Chicago Bulls Jerseys, they were also interred together, in a single coffin.Dacia AlertTheir funeral was one of the largest to be held at the Mackenzie Sports Club Ground.As news of the tragedy spread, frantic Lindeners converged on the scene, many of them wondering whether their child was in the bus, and checking other tour buses as they came in, bawling and screaming, all the while. There was hardly a dry eye. It was a heartbreaking and utterly chaotic scene.“Fortunately for the driver of the bus, he had disappeared, or there might have been another tragedy that day”, one eyewitness later reported.A DAY THEY WILL NEVER FORGETRelatives of the four children described that day as the most tragic of their lives.Desiree Alert, the mother of Dacia Alert, noted in a recent interview, “I can never forget that day. I had made a brand new uniform for her- I used to sew all her clothes.  And I remember seeing her all decked out in her new clothes, and so happy’.Mrs. Alert said that she learnt of the tragedy as she was making her way home from work. “A man come up to me and say moms, you ain’t hear what happen, yall ain’t hear Cutty Ranks bus blow up, and some children dead?”“Well after that was chaos, I had a bicycle but I couldn’t even ride, I had to run. My niece she later went and peeped in the bus and saw these charred bodies, and there was channa and other food items strewn on the floor.“But you couldn’t recognize anyone of the children. It was later while at the hospital that I confirmed that Dacia was dead, because there was a list of names of the children that were accounted for, and hers was not on the list. But somehow, I had known all along, because I knew that if she was alive, being the child she was, she would have run to me and given me all the details.“She was unique and brilliant, I never had to tell her to do her homework or anything, and even at such a tender age, she used to wash her own clothes. I often wonder what she would have turned out to be.”The casket in which four victims were buriedAfter her daughter’s death, Desiree  Alert quit her job as a Librarian at the Linden Library, as she felt she just couldn’t cope. She also went into depression and almost became a recluse. She later realized she was pregnant with another child, which she would give birth to eight months later.Alert named her last daughter Sarai, and would later return to the world of work, when the child entered school.“I became so concerned about her safety that I wanted to work at her school, it was like I had developed a sort of paranoia, after Dacia’s death, so I felt I had to be around wherever she was, to ensure that she was safe”.She did get the job as a librarian, but at another school, which she noted helped her to return to a semblance of ‘normalcy’.However, even now, after 17 years, Alert still cries for her daughter, as she did during our interview.Mellissa Wills was the youngest child for her parents.The eldest of the Wills clan, Monifa, said that she was sixteen years old, when Mellissa died.“When I got the news that the bus had exploded I was at the shop, so I just turned back,Wholesale China Jerseys, and I then saw my mother screaming coming up the road”.Monifa said that she remained in denial, as she could not accept that her sister was dead.She remembers taking Mellissa to day Care, and later when she entered  Primary School how she and the other three girls, would come over at their house, and eat their snacks, as the Wills’ house was in close proximity to the school.“Mellissa was a bright child, and I still remember her with much sadness; and my mother she cried for years after-we all wonder what she would have become.”Monifa said that her mother Bernadette Wills was not herself for a long time after Mellissa died.The ill-fated Dodge RamAs fate would have It, Monifa, who is now a nursery school teacher, said that a child of the owner of the bus that was responsible for her sister’s death was at one time, a pupil in her class.“And do you know, he probably didn’t know me, but I found it strange that he never allowed that child to go on tour, unless her mother was going, but then I later realized why.Gloria Mckinnon, Chiaka’s grandmother, remembers the day of the tragedy vividly.“I remember I got up that morning at about 5:30 to help her get ready.Her aunt had prepared her snacks and everything the night before, but what stands out clearly in my mind is how she refused to wear her new suede shoes,Jerseys NFL Cheap, and decided she would wear her regular school shoes. Even a nice African bag that she eventually went with I had to persuade her to go with it, because she kept saying mommy this is your good nice bag, why you want me to take it.”Recollecting her reactions on receiving the news later that day, McKinnon related, “I don’t know whether I walked, fly or what, but all I know is that I reach Guyana Stores, and I jump up to the window, but at the time I didn’t know that Chiaka was in the bus, so I enquired from a girl that had gone on the tour too, and she said that yes, Chiaka was on the bus.”But McKinnon said she still kept looking in all the buses, as they rolled into Linden. She added that what she was most annoyed about was the fact that she later learnt that the children never made it to Georgetown or Guyexpo, as they were stranded all day in their bus which had broken down.What was even worse, she noted, was that the bus that exploded with them was not even the bus that was booked for the trip, but another vehicle that was sent to tow the other vehicle back to Linden.“Now this bus that the owner sent to bring the other one back, is a bus he had been repairing, and which was not even fit to be on the road, because in order for it to work, they had to put a bottle of gas in the bus, and connect a hose to the engine.That is what caused the explosion,” McKinnon added.To MacKinnon, the death of her granddaughter proved to be the most harrowing experience of her life. It affected her so much that one year later, while on a trip in the USA, she started screaming at the top of her lungs while travelling on a bus to Arizona, when she realized that she didn’t have to do any shopping for Shiaka.Her husband,China NFL Jerseys, she noted was very embarrassed, as all the people on the bus were staring. “But for me it was a form of release of all the pent up emotions, because afterwards I slept for three straight hours.”SURVIVOROne of the survivors, Junell Norton, is now 26. He says he’s lucky to have escaped the inferno that killed his school-mates.“I spent some time in hospital recuperating; how long, I can’t remember. I had been burnt in the face, ears and hands and those burns took some time to heal.“But the most frustrating part was the court case, which seemed to drag on. We had to spend quite a bit of money to go to court every day, and at the end of it, nothing came out of it. The man got off scot-free. Where is the justice?”Relatives and friends of the children, who perished, would later cry ‘foul’ at a justice system that allowed the owner of the bus that was responsible for the children’s demise, to walk free.Gloria McKinnon, grandmother of Chiaka McKinnon, said that the star witnesses in the case were never called, and condemned the entire trial.To add insult to injury, McKinnon claimed, was the attitude of the bus owner, who never showed any remorse, but was “high-fiving” with friends and relatives,Wholesale Jerseys China, and even a few police ranks, after the verdict was handed down.But today, relatives though still hurt, said that they have forgiven the owner of the Dodge Ram, and leaves further judgment to God.Pastor Lachlan McKinnon, grandfather of Chiaka, notes philosophically,‘We just leave everything to God. We stop depending on man. We have forgiven him, and have released him to God. That has helped us to get closure, and that is how we were able to get peace again”.Those sentiments were echoed by his wife Gloria, who notes that her daughter Shelley Codrington, Chiaka’s mother, never speaks of Shiaka’s death, or the trial.The McKinnons, the Alerts, the Wills and the Best families have lived through what they consider to be their worst nightmare, and greatest loss, but still they hold fast to their faith, and their God, and the legacy of beautiful memories that Shiaka, Dacia, Onica and Mellissa have left them, thanks to their brief sojourn here on earth.
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