Jurani Baptiste: How drug abuse may have turned star teen cricketer into suspected killer
By Kenton X. Chance
The four murders that police believe 18-year-old Jurani Baptiste of Old Sandy Bay committed Sunday night represent the culmination of some five troubled years that began when he was a second form student at the St. Vincent Grammar School and his mother, Celia Baptiste, found marijuana in his school bag.
The teenager would go on to suffer two nervous breakdowns in 2015, and attempt to assault several persons in his Old Sandy Bay community, an iWitness News investigation has found.
Just one week before the killings Jurani is suspected of committing, the prosecutor at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court suggested that he be sent for another psychiatric evaluation. He was scheduled to meet with a psychiatrist last week Wednesday, Nov. 9, but heavy rains associated with a trough system disrupted that plan.
What happened in the four days thereafter is not clear, but Baptiste would come to the attention of the nation Monday morning, accused of murdering four persons in less than three hours the previous night.
The head of each victim was smashed and some of them had stab wounds, police have said.
Jurani is also the suspect in an intrusion into a house in Dasent Cottage, Old Montrose, where the occupants warded off an intruder matching his description.
iWitness News has spent the last few days trying to piece together the story of how Baptiste went from being a star bowler who played for the Windwards in the West Indies Cricket Board Under-15 Championship to becoming a suspected killer.
Police say that Baptiste is their sole suspect in the death of four persons killed between 11 p.m. Sunday and 1:45 a.m. Monday.
The victims are Nicolas Layne, 36, of Edinboro, who was clobbered and stabbed to death in Campden Park around 11 p.m.; Avis Israel, a 75-year-old retired nurse and her 47-year-old son, Ronald Israel, were also beaten to death at their home in Dasent Cottage, and 59-year-old Pamela Williams died after being stabbed and a concrete brick dropped on her head inside a bedroom of her Kingstown Park house sometime after 1 a.m. Monday.
Villagers, including Williams’ sister and next-door neighbour, Florence Glynn, met Jurani coming out of Williams’ house after the attack.
Civilians restrained him and he is in hospital nursing injuries.
While the accusation levelled against Jurani shocked the nation, many residents of his community were not surprised. iWitness News understands that Jurani’s alleged killing rampage began after an incident at his aunt’s house in Peter’s Hope, Central Leeward.
Jurani’s mother confirmed that there was an incident there, but declined detailing it, telling iWitness News, “She (Jurani’s aunt) said certain things, but I think it is right for her to say whatever happened. It is better for her to say.” She, however, told iWitness News that her sister is unlikely to tell the media what happened, and iWitness News was unsuccessful in its efforts to reach her.
Residents of a number of communities between Peter’s Hope and Kingstown – including Cane Grove and Rillan Hill — recounted seeing Jurani in their villages Sunday night.
Randolph Lyttle, one of the men who helped to restrain Jurani at Williams’ house said that after he was brought under control, be kept talking about “Aunty Marcie” and asked for water.
In the interview on Tuesday, Celia suggested that she was a mother frustrated that she could not have done more to help her son, even as she felt that the state also failed him.
“It’s a very long story. It really didn’t begin from here. It began from when he was in Form 2. He had issues from then and I tried the Family Court to get help. When I went there and told them what the problem is, they said like this, ‘The problem is not severe’,” said the mother, who also told iWitness News that she wanted her son to be sent to Liberty Lodge Boys Training Centre.
Celia said the problems with her son then was “the smoking”, adding that she once found marijuana inside his school bag, but he denied knowing where it came from.
She was very reticent about her son’s personality, telling iWitness News, “I really don’t know if I should go into all this details because the way I feel now, I don’t know if I can express everything where he is concerned.
“But, what I would like to say to the affected families, I am very sorry. On behalf of me and my extended family, we are so sorry about it because it would have been other people’s children,” she said, suggesting that she believes that her son had the potential to commit the crimes for which he is accused.
Asked if she was surprised about the allegation levelled against Jurani, the mother again said it is “a very long story”.
“When the authorities fail, it is nothing I could really do much to help because I went to the Family Court and all that they had ordered was for him to get counselling at the school for a whole year,” said the mother, who told iWitness News that she had initially approached the court in an effort to secure child support from Jurani’s father.
“I believe that if they had helped at that point in time and taken him to [Liberty Lodge]– It [has] a lot of people who are accusing me, saying I should get locked up. It is a whole heap of story,” the woman said.
After spending four years — the academic years beginning in 2009 and ending in 2013 — at St. Vincent Grammar School, during which he repeated Form 1, Jurani was transferred to the Georgetown Secondary School because of a lack of performance.
But he also had “some behavioural issues” at the Grammar School, a source familiar with his time there told iWitness but declined to elaborate because they were not authorised to discuss the matter.
At the Georgetown Secondary School, which he left at Form 5 last year, but without graduating, Jurani was a “quiet person” who used to be by himself, one of his former schoolmate told iWitness News.
And although his mother paid his school exit examinations fees, Jurani never sat any of them.
“Well, he said he was never prepared. He never [wrote] them. He never did. I just paid the money and that’s it,” Celia told iWitness News, adding, “There is a lot to say but I just can’t mention everything right now.”
But for all of Jurani’s other troubles, he remained a skilled cricketer, making it on to the Under-15 and Under-17 Windward Islands teams in 2012 and travelled to a number of countries as part of the squads.
iWitness News spoke to a number of male residents of Sandy Bay who were chatting with each other at the roadside on Tuesday.
They, too, described Jurani as having been “a very, very good cricketer”.
“He used to smoke and then he started to smoke weed,” one of them commented.
“Since he started smoking, he just completely changed. He used to be a very, very good cricketer. He got picked for West Indies but since he started smoking–” another commented, but did not finish the thought.
They told iWitness News that it was widely known in Sandy Bay that Jurani had a propensity to engage in certain untoward activities.
“He used to be going in and out of people’s houses, like going after old ladies and stuff like that. I had a niece and he tried to molest her, but I talked to him,” one of the young men told iWitness News.
Asked if they were surprised by the news that Jurani is believed to have murdered four persons, one of the youths told iWitness News:
“Well, not really surprised. He used to try to do that up here, but eventually he was like kind of scared because we used to tell him that we would deal with him if he tried to do those things. He used to be jumping in people’s house and steal stuff, like gold and shoes and sell them and buy weed and coke and thing.”
Celia told iWitness News that her son suffered a nervous breakdown twice in 2015 — in June and October.
The young men speculated that Jurani may have smoked a “zookie” — crack cocaine mixed with marijuana — and this triggered the psychosis.
“He used to violate his own family around there,” one of the young men said, noting that Jurani had mashed windows in a house that his mother rented and damaged a vehicle rented by his older brother — incidents that both his mother and the landlord confirmed.
“He was cool, but from since he started dealing with the weed and thing, he just changed. He went couple times down by the mental institution down there and they gave him some tablets but he was just throwing away the medication.
“We are not really surprised but he chose that path so he has to suffer the consequences, whatever they give him now. We used to be talking to him but it just like it used to go in one ear and come out back. If somebody make up their mind to do something, you can’t change them,” one of the young men told iWitness News.
And it is talk like this that Jurani’s extended family has to cope with, including when his mother visited him in hospital on Monday.
“I saw him but I didn’t say anything much to him. He was in a point where he was just calling for water and food and stuff like that,” Celia told iWitness News, adding that she was frustrated because other visitors were “commenting and saying their own things” and she couldn’t have a chance to visit with him privately”.
Celia told iWitness News that while the court had ordered last year that Jurani be sent to the Mental Health Centre, she was the one who recommended that he be sent there.
He spent three to four weeks at the institution, she told iWitness News, but did not elaborate on the findings of the doctor.
“I think the court, or the doctor, should say these things, because I really don’t want to say certain things that I think. To me, if he had gone back to the Mental [Health Centre], he would not have come out to do these things. I reported to the police that he had two nervous breakdown…” she said.
Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police, Colin John, told the media on Monday that
“It would appear as if he (Jurani) has some mental issue”.
The senior police officer said that a court had ordered that Baptiste be sent to the Mental Health Centre for observation and that the doctor then had said that he was fit to stand trial at that time.
Jurani had come to the attention of law enforcement in relation to charges such as damage to property, wounding, assault resulting in bodily harm, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, John said.
The damage to property charge may have stemmed from an incident in March of this year, when Jurani broke four windows and a door of a house that his mother was renting in Magum, and smashed one of the doors of a vehicle his older brother had rented.
A resident of the area told iWitness News that Jurani’s family had locked him out of the house after he had attempted to assault his sister the previous night.
Celia told iWitness News that she then asked that he be sent to the Mental Health Centre “because I know last year he had two nervous breakdown.
“So, it must have to be something happening again,” she told iWitness News.
After the incident at the house, Jurani ran away, his mother said, and when he came back, her other son went to the police to tell them that he was there and to come and get him.
“They never showed up. Sometimes, when you go to the police, they will tell you they don’t have any vehicle, and that’s exactly what they told me when he came back to my rent[ed] house in Magum.
“Yes, it is my son. He threatened to mash it up again and I didn’t sleep there. I called the police how many times before they turned up. I called them and told them he was there because I [was] scared; I have my young child,” said the mother of four, including a 7-month-old baby.
She said that when some matters were called against Jurani at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court two weeks ago, the prosecutor told the court that Jurani is a “mental case” and needs counselling. He was scheduled to see a psychiatrist last week Wednesday, but did not because of the inclement weather.
Celia said that on the previous occasion when Jurani was taken to the Mental Health Centre for observation, at the end of his hospitalisation, the doctor took him into a room “and I have no idea what was said”.
“My son just came out and he gave the appointment … when the doctor said to come back.”
She said that if charges are brought again Jurani, she does not have the means to provide legal counsel for him.
“I think I … have done my best. I did everything possible,” Celia told iWitness News, adding she had gone to the Family Court to seek help after Jurani’s father began ignoring him when he was 7 months old.
“I don’t know if all of this affected, him — both parents were not there for him,” Celia said.
In the same interview, Timor Baptiste, Jurani’s grandfather, recounted how he went with his grandson to the Georgetown Hospital and later Milton Cato Memorial Hospital after he had a nervous breakdown while a student at the Georgetown Secondary School — while Celia was overseas.
“I feel so sad that such [a] thing ever happened to my grandson…” Timor told iWitness News.
“I am feeling so sorry about it… I don’t have my grandson’s mind. I always sit down and talk to Jurani. I always tell him about Jesus Christ. I always tell him to go to church with me and my wife, which is his grandmother. Now, I feel so sad, so sorry about it because people are going to say, ‘Man yo see that family dey, tha’ family dey wicked. Watch what he grandson … do’,” the elderly man told iWitness News.
Among the youngsters who spoke to iWitness News at the roadside in Sandy Bay on Tuesday was one who said that he, too, was ill with mental health issues.
“I had two [nervous breakdowns]. But I took my medication and today I am back good, good, good. I used to be drinking a lot — plenty, plenty; everyday,” the resident of the North Windward community who said he is 28, told iWitness News, but declined to give his name.
He said that on Christmas Day 2015, he was a patient at the Mental Health Centre.
“My sister and my mom had to give me the medication. My sister, she was behind them to make sure I get it. But she didn’t want them to keep me down there,” he said, adding that he had the second nervous breakdown because he relapsed into his drinking.
The villager, who is a tradesman, has since found other activities to occupy himself during his spare time, including diving and hunting.
His advice to persons who have a nervous breakdown is to take their medication.
“That is what helped me. I was suffering from low blood first and I kept drinking on the low blood. That is really what triggered the nervous breakdown,” he told iWitness News.
Prosecutors are yet to say what charges, if any, will be brought against Jurani.