Birthday heartache for friends, teachers of slain teenager
His attendance was sporadic, but in the less than two years that Rushane Smith went to Denham Town High School at 105 North Street in downtown Kingston, the troubled teenager endeared himself to form teacher Donnette Smith, with whom he had a special relationship.
Yesterday, on his 14th birthday, a fresh bouquet of red bougainvilleas rested on the desk at the back of Grade 8N where Rushane usually sat in class. It provided a glimmer of brightness on a sombre morning of reflection on the life of the youngster who, from all indications, met a harrowing death some time between last Wednesday and Thursday morning, when his body was found in a garbage heap on Eve Lane.
His hands bound and faced covered with a shirt, the teenager had gunshot wounds to the head, according to investigators.
Minister of Education Ruel Reid and a high-level team from the ministry participated in the morning devotions, where he charged the students to stay the course in their pursuit of education, despite the challenges.
Larissa Campbell, first deputy head girl, gave the assurance that the message was well received.
"We heard what you said and we put it in our minds that we are gonna be the best, despite all the crime and the mourning. That we gonna rise to the challenge and be the best that we can," she declared.
It was obvious, however, that at least for the time being, keeping that promise would be difficult.
"It has really thrown us into a sad momentum in that this young man is like our own child. When we heard that he was killed ... [just] 13 years old, today he is 14. We didn't expect that sort of thing; it is so sad," principal Audrey Williams shared with The Gleaner.
'Hope you make it to the pearly gate'
Donnette Smith, who has been Rushane's form teacher since seventh grade, put on a brave face as she reflected on the life of a young boy who earned a special place in her heart.
She explained: "It's very difficult because Rushane, I don't know, maybe because we have the same surname, he was very close to me. I was like one of his mothers. He comes to school, and if there is any difficulty, I am the first one, whether I am inside in the class or not, he would always be looking for me, to find me to tell me something or the other. If he wanted something to eat, or a book or a pencil, something, I was always there.
"It's a bit heart-rending because I have close contact with the mother. And when he is out of school, because I pass her on the road, I am always asking, 'What happened to Rushane? Why is he not in school?' And she would say, 'OK, Miss, he is coming tomorrow!'
"He would be 14 today," said Smith.
Rushane was affectionately known as 'Sleepy', and Smith shared her role in how he got this pet name.
"He is always sleeping. I met with his form teacher, also in seventh grade, and from he comes in, he hits the desk, and I was the person who said, 'OK, Sleepy', and that's how the name stuck to him in seventh grade."
An enlarged passport type photo of Rushane posted in the centre of a pink-coloured sheet of cartridge paper pasted to a section of a wall attracted handwritten messages of condolence. Some of the messages their slain schoolmate will never have a chance to read expressed optimism about their hopes for his future in the afterlife.
One such example, which tugged at the heart strings, reads: "Rushane you have left us with a lot grief but I hope you make it to the pearly gate of HEAVEN!!!"
Ironically, in a photograph accompanying the article headlined 'Save our children', published in The Sunday Gleaner of January 8, a barefooted Rushane is shown steering a handcart along Duke Street, with two younger children aboard and four others running alongside.