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Western war zone - As St James murder record skyrockets, residents lose hope

Published:Monday | December 26, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Police remove the bodies of two men shot on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay, St James, earlier this year.

With more than 260 murders so far, and another four days to go in 2016, St James is set not only to retain but extend its unenviable reputation as Jamaica's most murderous region - on a nominal and per capita basis - the latest figures, after a slew of Christmas killings in the parish, indicate.

Five persons were murdered in the parish on Christmas Day. Even if there are no more killings there for the rest of the year, St James, with a population of approximately 184,000 and 263 murders, will have a homicide rate of 143 per 100,000, or 2.9 times the national average, which is projected to end 2016 at 49 per 100,000.


Lottery scamming capital


Located on Jamaica's north-west coast, and the home of some of the island's top resort areas, St James has, over the past decade, become known as the epicentre of the lottery scamming business and the violent crimes associated with.

Lottery scams are schemes through which mostly elderly Americans have been swindled out of hundreds of millions of dollars with tales of having won large amounts of money in sweepstakes. To redeem their winnings, the victims are told they have to pay taxes and other charges upfront.

Police say that scams sometimes spawn violence among rival swindlers fighting for so-called lead lists - documents detailing the personal data, including age, address, telephone numbers, and, sometimes, banking information - of potential targets, or, in disputes over the distribution of their spoils from their activities.

No motive has yet been determined for the Christmas Day killings in the parish capital of Montego Bay and the volatile community of Norwood, but they pushed the murders for 2016 over the 260 mark and to an increase of 51, or 24 per cent, compared to the figure for all of 2015, when the homicide rate was 114 per 100,000.

Expressed another way, St James' homicide rate this year increased by more than 24 per cent - nearly 28 per 100,000.

The Christmas Day victims were Nadine Depass, 49; Monique Woolery, 27; Jason Anderson, 30; Leo 'Fire' Mitchell, 39; and Yorken Silvera, 43.

Depass, a mother of seven, including a five-year-old, lived in Hendon, Norwood, and was a popular face on Montego Bay's nightlife circuit for more than two decades. Her throat was slashed by unknown assailants in downtown Montego Bay.

While residents of Norwood were lamenting that murder, killers struck in the community, along the popular Nelly Lane.

About 7:30 p.m., Woolery, from Llandilo, Westmoreland, was walking along Nelly Lane with a male companion when the couple was attacked by gunmen who alighted from a car. The pair sought safety at a shop, but the gunmen followed, firing bullets.

In the end, Woolery, Anderson, Mitchell and Silvera were all dead.

Another five persons were injured.

"It is a damn disgrace! Not even Christmas Day dem yah shottas nuh respect," said a bystander, who was among the throng viewing Depass' body at the scene of her murder.

In Norwood, residents, though wary of the killings, suggested a bleak acceptance of the situation.

"This is about the fifth triple murder we have had in this area since the start of the year," lamented one man who lives close to where the latest deaths occurred.

"We feel so helpless ... . Me personally give up."

While St James deepens its reputation for killings, the matter of violent crime remains a national problem.

After a one-third decline in homicides over the previous five years that dropped the homicide rate to under 40 per 100,000, murders have been on the uptick again over the past two years.

Last year, Jamaica recorded 1,207 murders, a five per cent increase that pushed the homicide rate to just under 45 per 100,000. This year, so far, there have been 1,321, suggesting that 2016, by the time it ends, will record a 10 per cent increase, pushing the murder rate to 49 per 100,000.