Relatives of the students who were in the minivan that crashed at Rock Gutter on Jan. 12, killing seven students, on Thursday expressed appreciation to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves for his response after the tragedy.
Wendy Michael, whose son, Danny Michael, saved several students before seeking help, said that parents of the students got together and bought “a little post card” over three months ago and had planned to go to the Prime Minister’s office in Kingstown to give it to him to show their love and appreciation for him.
“Because in our darkest days, he came forth and he helped us; he gave us a helping hand,” Michael said at the event in Fancy.
Among the persons at the event were MP for North Windward Montgomery Daniel, members of staff of the Office of the Prime Minister, including Cabinet Secretary Kattian Barnwell, Deputy Commissioner of Police Reynold Hadaway, and Commandant of the Coast Guard, Brenton Cain.
“What we couldn’t have done, he and his team, those overseas, and I think the whole of St. Vincent, they were here with us to cry with us, they were here with us to help us bury our dead, they were here with us after the funeral and I just have to say thank you Prime Minister from the bottom of our heart. And everyone who came forth that day and is still here with us today, thank you,” Michael said.
Junior Bowens, father of Racquel Ashton, one of the students who died in the tragedy, said Gonsalves “demonstrated real leadership.
“You came to us from the very beginning. And that is what real leadership is about. Leadership comes to the people and not the people come to the leader. After all, it’s the people who have elected the leader to serve.
“And during our worst moment, you have really serves us well. You went beyond the call of duty to see that we were well taken care of. You made yourself available, you provided us with easy access to you. At no time we came to you and we were pushed around,” Bowens said.
Daniel said Thursday’s event was one of his happiest moments since he became MP for North Windward in 2001.
“I’m elated even as we reminisce on the tragic moments that took place a few months ago. And normally, within our culture, where it is not easy to lose a loved one and that you have come here this evening to say thanks to the Prime Minister of this country, indeed, I tell you, I am happy,” he said.
“Today, the people of Fancy have come out in no uncertain terms to say thank you to the Prime Minister for the way he would have responded at this tragic moment for the people of Fancy.”
In delivering the “official thank you” on behalf of the parents, Nelcia Stay, mother of deceased student Chanstacia Stay, said they expressed gratitude to persons who went “above and beyond their duties to help us”.
“Insanity was one inch away. We couldn’t walk, but you carried us through. Our anger, our frustration, shock, heartache — and you are still here with us today through our healing process,” said Stay, whose daughter was not recovered.
“We thank you. We are grateful for all the persons who assisted us in one way or the other: whether with tears, hugs, food, sympathy cards, words of comfort; the whole of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the wider world. The divers who retrieved our beloved bodies, the Coast Guard who helped, NEMO and many more, too numerous to mention.”
Stay said that the parents will be thanking through the media or personally others persons and organisations who assisted after the tragedy.
“This village of Fancy, they took us in their bosoms; they sheltered us. They showed us love … And they are still doing that; still sheltering us. Continue to do that. we love you,” Stay said.
She spoke of the “tremendous, selfless and compassionate contribution” of the Prime Minister, who, she said, “went above and beyond the call of duty to assist and support us in every way possible during our worst moment in the aftermath of the Rock Gutter tragedy…
“Sir, you have to be a person with genuine love to be here early in the morning on January 13th to give us physical support and show compassion to the family of the diseased and also to the survivors,” Stay said.
She thanked the Prime Minister for his interest in her personal wellbeing, saying he had asked someone to look out for her, telling them, “I am afraid for her.”
“Mr. Prime minister, I was afraid for myself. I didn’t know I would be here today in this state of mind — a sane person, because I thought I had lost it,” Stay said.
In response, Gonsalves said he will treasure the card and plaque given to him.
“I will frame it actually. I get a lot of cards but this one is very special. I’m going to frame this one,” he said.
He told the gathering that he will put the plaque in a prominent place in the Office of the Prime Minister.
“And whenever Almighty God or the people decide to have me out of the office, but I will put it in front of me,” he said, adding that he will then put it in a prominent place in his home at Gorse.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Gonsalves told the gathering, adding that the appreciations are really for a lot of people.
Among them he mentioned MP Daniel; the Police; the Coast Guard; Pastor Verrol Blake (who attended Thursday’s event) and other pastors; the National Emergency Management Organisation; the Ministries of Education, Social Development, and Health; New Haven Funeral Home; the people of Owia, Fancy and other fisher folk who assisted in the search; the people of Fancy, generally; and the whole country.
“And those who showed sympathy and tried to help in every way possible. I know you feel that I myself did something special in this period and after and I accept your gratitude with humility. Blessings are for those who give and those who receive. But most of all, we have to give thanks and praise to Almighty God,” Gonsalves said.