Christmas on the run - Criminals cause residents of two Linstead communities to flee their homes
Several residents of Banbury and Victoria in Linstead, St Catherine, are spending this Christmas on the run in the face of threats by thugs of more violence in the two communities.
A deadly gang feud has already claimed more than 12 lives in the two communities since the start of the year, and a chilling voice note which started circulating last Thursday has added to the fear.
"Anybody who has any family who live in a Linstead or a plan to go Grand Market, me a beg unnu please contact them as soon as possible that the message in the streets is that ... there is going to be a bloody Christmas in Linstead," said a male in a section of the voice note.
The decades-old Christmas Eve Grand Market in Linstead is one of the most popular in Jamaica, with thousands of sellers and buyers turning out each year.
But up to late yesterday, vendors were expressing fear about the possibility of violence, and this was compounded by the early-afternoon shooting of three men, two fatally, in the town last Wednesday.
Pickersgill raised alarm
Robert Pickersgill, member of parliament for the area, last week raised alarm about the recent string of gun crimes in the communities.
"I am concerned, and so are the citizens of Linstead because in a few areas people have had to abandon their homes in flight against these criminals," said Pickersgill.
"There is a clear relationship in terms of the families, and it is leading to reprisals: mothers have been killed, brothers have been killed.
"It is not extraneous elements. It is being done by people from the area. It's families against families. It has caused quite a stir in the Banbury, Victoria (and) surrounding areas," added Pickersgill.
One fearful resident of Banbury, Conroy Henry*, told The Sunday Gleaner that he was taking no chances with the criminals this Christmas.
"I left there one month now. Them say them going to kill me and me wife because my son and them are in things. I don't know. So I don't really go back there without the police," said Henry, who had to grab what he could and flee the war-torn community.
"I only go to the house on a Friday, and that is only when police carry me go up there. We will stay over and leave by the Sunday morning the latest.
"The violence, the killings make me feel coward," added Henry, as he looked wearily at his abandoned house from a distance.
Banbury and Victoria are small neighbouring communities, etched on a rustic landscape, complemented by lush vegetation, fresh streams and butterflies.
The two communities are less than eight minutes away from the Linstead Police Station and the Linstead Market.
According to some residents, a heated rivalry, which has its roots in nearby Spanish Town, has spread to their neighbourhoods.
They said the victims include two brothers, a couple was shot dead and their house burnt to the ground, and two of three men shot on Royal Avenue last Wednesday.
Extortionist targeted by rivals
The residents say the killings started when Neil Fearon, a known extortionist and gunrunner, was targeted by rivals, who were not in favour of his allegiances in Spanish Town.
At least three men were shot dead as the thugs went after Fearon, who was killed about three months ago.
Since then, there has been a tit for tat between Fearon's rivals and men from the area, with anyone even remotely related to either side being potential targets.
"Is a case of bad weed a kill out bad weed, you hear, sah! Dem know who dem a kill. Is side against side a go on and anybody you see dem kill, dem connected or know what a go on," claimed a resident who gave his name as 'Pappa'.
He said as early as 6 p.m. the communities are transformed into ghost towns as gunmen go on the prowl.
The Linstead police told our news team that they are aware of the deadly rivalry and have increased their presence in the area.