A bloody trail - Manchester police tracking ghost gun linked to multiple crimes over several years
It was mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve three years ago and the market in the central Jamaica town of Mandeville was buzzing with activities.
Suddenly, gunshots rang out, sending shoppers and vendors scampering for safety. When the shooting ended, the body of Richard Howard, 21, was found slumped over inside a stall, shot twice, including a bullet to the head.
This brazen daylight shooting was about to lead the police in Manchester to a killing machine or so-called ‘ghost gun’ that had left a trail of blood and tears across the parish in the last five years.
A team of quick-thinking cops, acting on information, rushed to a nearby shopping plaza where Jason Bankersingh, an alleged gangster, and another man were apprehended inside a taxi that was about to drive away.
A 9-millimetre pistol with nine bullets was taken from Bankersingh.
He pleaded guilty to illegal possession of firearm and ammunition in the Manchester Circuit Court late last year and is now serving a nine-year prison sentence for each offence. The sentences are being served simultaneously.
Bankersingh was sentenced on January 15 this year by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, who also heaped praises on the police for their swift action, which ensured that this killing machine was removed from the criminal underworld.
The gun was turned over to the government forensic laboratory and police investigators were about to make a shocking discovery.
It was used in five murders – including Howard’s – and three shootings across Manchester between August 2016 and the December 24, 2018 killing inside the Mandeville Market, the lab confirmed through the use of the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), senior law-enforcement sources revealed.
An IBIS report presented to the court during Bankersingh’s sentencing hearing confirmed four murders and three shootings. The other murder was confirmed by a senior investigator assigned to the Manchester police.
In 2016, the gun was used in August, October and November to commit one murder and two shootings, according to the IBIS report. It was active again in January, April and December the following year when it was used in two murders and one shooting.
After an eight-month break, the 9-millimetre pistol resurfaced in August 2018 when it was again used to snuff out the life of its lone female victim before Howard’s Christmas Eve killing.
“Richard was not a troublemaker or nothing,” Howard’s mother, Veronica Gayle, recounted during a Sunday Gleaner interview last Thursday.
Gayle who, along with her mother, was vending in the Mandeville Market at the time of Howard’s slaying, said she did not hear the gunfire, but recounted how she collapsed after she got word of her son’s death.
“Mommy call me and say to me say she hear say dem kill one Richard. Me leave from where me was selling and run go round there. Me realise seh is my son dem kill because he was in the yellow shirt and the jeans pants wha me did see him inna the morning,” she said.
“Me blackout after dat, me no know nutten more after that.”
Bankersingh has been charged with Howard’s killing and is awaiting trial for murder, one of the reasons police investigators have declined to comment publicly about the case.
Senior police officials in Manchester declined, also, to divulge details about the 9-millimetre pistol, including the make and model or how it entered Jamaica.
Doing so, they explained, would compromise possible criminal prosecutions that would flow from their renewed investigations.
But much like their colleagues in other divisions, the police in Manchester have confirmed that they have compiled a list of ‘ghost guns’ – wanted guns or prized possessions, as they describe them – that have been linked by ballistic evidence to multiple shooting incidents in the parish, one investigator confirmed.
“Sometimes these incidents are carried out by groups of individuals and sometimes they are done by lone rangers,” said the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly.
The Sunday Gleaner, citing senior law-enforcement sources, reported last July that the Jamaican police were trying to track down more than two dozen ‘ghost guns’ that were responsible for multiple murders across the island.
Among them was another 9-millimetre pistol that has been linked to seven murders in five police divisions over a five-year period, starting in 2011.
Jamaica recorded more than 12,000 murders in the last decade and just over 75 per cent involved the use of a firearm.
Amid the nightly islandwide curfew and other restrictive measures imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Jamaica recorded 111 murders in the first 29 days of this year, six ahead of last year’s pace, police statistics show.
Just over 1,300 murders were recorded last year, a marginal decrease when compared with 2019. At least 1,000 murders were recorded after Jamaica confirmed its first case of the coronavirus last March.
Thirty-three murders were recorded in Manchester last year, a 23 per cent fall-off from the previous year.
The first shootings linked to the 9-millimetre pistol taken from Bankersingh was carried out on August 24, 2016 in Heartease district, and nearly two months later, on October 18, in the community of Hatfield, according to the IBIS report.
Two men were injured in the attacks, but survived.
Its first murder came on November 18, 2016 at a shop located on deCarteret Road, just outside the Mandeville town centre. The victim, Ainsworth Green, also known as ‘Short Man’, who was seated outside the shop, had no chance, according to several witnesses.
“The man (shooter) walk up an order a beer … and after him order the beer, him just shoot the man and gone,” one elderly man recounted during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last Thursday.
The 9-millimetre pistol resurfaced in Heartease district on January 7, 2017, when it was used to snuff out the life of Oneil Chanteloupe.
NO WORD AFTER FOUR YEARS
Nearly four months later, on April 10, it was used in the killing of Anthony Wright, 50, known popularly as ‘Ready Mek’, a father of three girls and three boys.
Wright was shot eight times as he sat at a tyre shop on Greenvale Road, just outside the town centre, according to his cousin, Ennis Levy.
“He slumped over on the tyre,” Levy said, recounting how the shooter waited until three other persons had left the tyre shop sandwiched between a section of the Winston Jones Highway and Old Greenvale Road.
He remembered his cousin as a jovial person who may have had a premonition of his death. “His lady tell me say on the morning of his death he said to himself ‘weh me a go’, like him never did wah come out di house,” Levy recalled.
He is perplexed that nearly four years later there has been no word from police investigators about who was responsible for the killing or a motive.
“All now we no get nothing like dat. Me no really feel good fi know seh after so long there is no form a justice. Me and him was the same age group, we no suppose to dead dem deh way deh,” Levy, 54, told The Sunday Gleaner.
On August 13, 2018, Maureen McDonald became the sole female killed by the 9-millimetre pistol. She was shot to death in Allison district, police records show.