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Five students laid to rest after a moving six-hour funeral, witnessed by hundreds

Five students laid to rest after a moving six-hour funeral, witnessed by hundreds

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There was hardly a dry eye at the Fancy Playing Field on Sunday, where the coffins containing the remains of Annique Alexander, Racquel Ashton, Jamal and Jamalie Edwards and Glenroy Michael lay side by side, in front of the hundreds of persons who journeyed from near and far, to pay their last respects.

As early as 9 a.m., family members, friends, {{more}}and persons who turned up in support of the families of the deceased and of the missing students (Chanstacia Stay and Simonique Ballantyne), piled under the five large tents which had been set up on the playing field.

By 10 a.m., traffic was almost at a standstill, as vehicles carefully manoeuvred their way to and from the venue, located on a narrow strip of road.

Before the service officially commenced, there were moments of disorder, with members of the congregation repeatedly having to be told to keep clear of the coffins, to allow the relatives of the deceased to view the bodies of the deceased.

It took nearly 25 minutes to get that situation under control, during which time police officers from the Rapid Response Unit and the Special Services Unit formed a barricade around the coffins.

As the sun pierced through the tents, it aided somewhat in lifting the spirits of many in attendance, as did the praise and worship session, led by the Ekklesia Gospel Band.

The welcome and opening remarks were done by Bishop Melford Pompey, senior bishop of the St Mary’s Spiritual Baptist Church, while Reverend Verrol Blake, senior pastor of the International Pentecostal Association, delivered the opening prayer.

As their way of paying respect to the five deceased and two missing students, teachers and students of the three affected schools gave musical tributes.

Following this, the principals of the North Union Secondary, Georgetown Secondary, and the St Vincent Grammar Schools gave eulogies of the fallen students — all of whom were remembered as remarkable students and in the case of Jamalie Edwards — the best male student at the North Union Secondary School.

As she sat with a picture of her daughter in her lap and her arms around family members, Racquel Ashton’s mother, Rochelle could not muster the strength to fight back tears as those around her began crying out.

Racquel’s father, Junior Bowens, read out a message that his daughter had written to him for the New Year. In that note, Racquel told her father that he was her hero and that despite his shortcomings, she loved him very much.

And as the touching tributes flowed, so did the tears of many of the parents, seated at the front of the gathering.

“Ohhh, God, my baby. I miss you, Stacy,” Nelcia Stay, mother of missing student Chanstacia Stay, could be heard saying, as she was consoled by family members. When she paid tribute to her daughter, Nelcia said Chanstacia was baptized on July 12, 2012.

“… And on the 12 of January, 2015, I am still looking for her. Nothing is going to replace my Chans. She is always going to be the love of my life. And although my heart is aching, I thank you Jesus for my gift of 15 wonderful years. I love you, Chanstacia,” Stay said, as she sobbed profusely.

Simone Ballantyne, mother of missing teen Simonique Ballantyne, buckled under the touching tributes delivered by family members. Her husband, Station Sergeant Hezron Ballatyne, stood over her, hugged her and kissed the crown of her head.

Speaking about his daughter, Ballantyne, said Simonique was the one who did all the baking at home during the Christmas vacation and would keep her mother’s company while he was at work.

Ballantyne, who is head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) at the Calliaqua Police Station, poured out thanks to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace for their support during his family’s trying time.

In reading his eulogy, a relative of Glenroy “Glendon” Michael Jr said the deceased was steadfast in his faith and had just been appointed a deacon in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Glendon’s father, Glenroy Michael, noted that his son had contacted him on January 11 – the day before he met his death.

A member of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, Michael said his son had messaged him via Facebook, requesting photographs from his Christmas visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

However, when Glenroy replied later that day, Glendon did not reply and perhaps never got the opportunity to view the photographs he had requested.

An aunt of Jamalie and Jamal Edwards described them as two young boys who loved each other and had a very close bond.

She said Jamal was a child who loved to save his money, and for three consecutive years was recognized for being the top Junior Saver. She said Jamalie, on the other hand, enjoyed spending his time fishing.

When Annique Alexander’s family members took to the stage, they hugged and spoke of Annique’s vibrant and outspoken nature.

At different points, persons discarded their tissues and rags and wept openly — raising their hands in the air and asking the question, “why?”

Some persons who delivered eulogies found it impossible to string a sentence together without breaking down.

Counsellors in attendance tried their best to assist those in mourning, but the tears were just too abundant.

At approximately 12:30 p.m., there was a power outage, which seemed to lift the spirits of those gathered, as they sang choruses in the interim. A second power outage occurred at 1:05 p.m., with power returning about five minutes later.

Before Commissioner of Police Michael Charles delivered his brief remarks, he sang a song in tribute to the deceased and those missing.

Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda Joseph Hughes also delivered brief remarks. He and nine other members of the Antigua and Barbuda police force journeyed to St Vincent and the Grenadnes in support of their colleague Glenroy Michael, father of Glenroy “Glendon” Michael Jr, one of the deceased students.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace told the gathering that everything will be done to prevent a re-occurrence of the accident.

“I cannot and should not dictate your needs and wants in these circumstances. No one should. Instead, please know that we are here in your feelings with you,” Eustace said.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves implored the gathering not to only remember those who are dead and missing.

“We must remember those who have survived. This is a funeral service for those who are dead… We must make sure we comfort the families and other children in those families, so at the end of the day, we can truly say we are civilized people, full with love and caring…”

The homily was delivered by Pastor Sigmund Wiggins, District Pastor, North Windward District of Seventh-Day Adventists).

Following the funeral service, which ended at 5:30 p.m., six and a half hours after it began, persons assembled in the street and sang hymns and embraced the relatives of the deceased, as they made the lengthy journey to the newly gazetted and consecrated cemetery, with the police band leading the way.

Area representative Montgomery Daniel and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Girlyn Miguel also spoke briefly at the funeral.

A tribute in song was done by the group Voices of Praise at the funeral, while other songs were performed and words of comfort delivered.

One day earlier, on Saturday, January 24, a wreath laying ceremony was held at Rock Gutter, in memory of the two missing students, Chanstacia Stay and Simonique Ballantyne.(KW)

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