Staff and students at the Charlie Smith High School in St. Andrew gather for a prayer vigil and candlelight ceremony last Friday. -Norman Grindley/Deputy Chief Photographer
Robert Lalah, Assistant Editor Features
News reports last Tuesday about gunmen running on to the compound of the Charlie Smith High School in Trench Town, St. Andrew, shocked many people. The gunmen were involved in a shoot-out with men from another section of the community and used the school as an escape route. The two and a half hours of constant gunfire that started just after midday signalled to the staff and students who were cowering in fear that yet another round of violence had erupted in Trench Town. This time when things settled down, it was discovered that 17-year-old Amelia Clarke, a recent graduate of the school, was killed in her home. This however was by no means the first time that the Charlie Smith High School was so closely affected by violence. Earlier this month, Kemisha Millington, a star athlete at the school, was killed. There are currently four grade 11 students at Charlie Smith High who have been shot in the community.
Last Tuesday was a day that teachers and students, though accustomed to the sound of gunshots, will not soon forget.
On Friday, the school administration led another prayer vigil for peace in the community. They've done this kind of thing many times before. Fear now grips the staff and students of the school and as they gathered to light candles, sing songs and pray, the frustration and the worry was obvious on the faces of many.
One male teacher described what happened last Tuesday.
"It went on for about three hours. Just constant gunfire. It was horrible. It was so loud that it felt like it was rocking the building. We had to gather the children in one place to keep them safe. It happens all the time, but when the men actually ran into the schoolyard, we were more frightened than usual. It was really scary," he said.
Be extremely careful
Andre Reid,a 17-year-old student of the Charlie Smith High School, is determined to succeed despite the violence.
The teacher explained that when walking to and from school, the students have to be extremely careful. "There is always the possibility of stray bullets and there are also people in certain sections who will target the students. That's why when the war starts school attendance is affected. If the students are from a rival section of the community then they dare not be seen on this side, so they don't bother to come to school. It really is horrible," he said. Many of the roads near to the school have been blocked by tree trunks and old appliances placed there by residents. "You have to use those things as a guide to know where you can walk and where to stay away from," the teacher said.
Seventeen-year-old Andre Reid was in the science lab when the shooting started. "It was really loud. People start to scream even though it is a regular thing around here. I hear it all the time because I live in Trench Town but other students were afraid. I didn't see when the gunmen ran into the school, but other people told me about it. It really bad this time," he said.
But even in the face of despair comes a glimmer of hope, as Andre, though a lone voice among the 450 students who attend the school, is determined to make something of himself at the Charlie Smith High School. "I don't care about the war. I still plan to take my 10 subjects and then go on to get a good job in an office. I cannot make this stop me because I have to do well to help my mother. Somehow, I still have to do well, and I know I will. Not even gunman can stop me," he said.