(SEARCHLIGHT) — The alleged attack on a 70-year-old Peace Corps volunteer is still under investigation as there is much to be discovered and clarified, according to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
“There are many pieces of this puzzle still to be put together,” the Prime Minister told reporters at Cabinet Room yesterday, Monday September 3.
Sharing parts of the report made by the elderly volunteer, the Prime Minister, reading a prepared statement (see full statement on page 10) said that the volunteer arrived here on August 16 following her initial five-week Peace Corps training in St Lucia and was placed with a host family in a rural part of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
She had made a familiarisation visit by bus to Kingstown with her host family on Friday, August 17 and this visit was among other things, for her to learn the bus route from her home in the countryside to Kingstown and to the Peace Corps office at New Montrose.
On Monday, August 20, 2018, the volunteer alleged that she was assaulted around 7.30 a.m in the area outside the Leeward Bus Terminal.
Following her report of the alleged attack, she and the 22 other Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated by the United States government to St Lucia.
The female volunteer alleges that about 7.30 a.m. on Monday, August 20, she disembarked a bus and began to walk and enquired the direction of the Peace Corps office.
As she was walking, she alleges that she was grabbed from behind in a bear hug, her arms pinned after which she was pushed into an alcove next to an empty market table and partition.
“In the process of the alleged assault, she was punched in the stomach, her button blouse was ripped open, her breast was grabbed and squeezed, and her head was slammed on a vendor’s table and she was spat upon at the back of her neck. Those are her allegations in a nutshell,” Gonsalves told media personnel.
He added that the volunteer alleges that there were two assailants, both of middle eastern descent, who did not speak with a Caribbean accent.
“The volunteer further alleges that both of the alleged assailants were wearing olive green pants tucked into the top of their black boots and a dark coloured long sleeve shirt tucked into the pants and one of them had a scarf, a lot of cloth fabric, around his neck. He had a full beard the other alleged assailant had no beard,” said the Prime Minister.
The volunteer further alleges that during the assault, her assailants spoke angry and derogatory words about the American president Donald Trump, the Peace Corps and female Peace Corps volunteers.
“She gave details of those angry and derogatory words which she alleged were spoken,” the Prime Minister said, while adding that the elderly woman said she received directions from passers-by and made it to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) after the alleged assault.
The Prime Minister reported that while at the MCMH, the volunteer was attended by a doctor and a nurse and the doctor’s medical report advises that the woman had scratches to the face, neck, upper arm and chest and bruises to the left upper arm, abdomen and left breast.
Gonsalves said after the examination, the police were called and met the volunteer along with Cuthbert James, the local Peace Corps coordinator.
According to Gonsalves, “she, the volunteer, then volunteered to take the police and Mr. James to the location where the alleged incident occurred three or so hours earlier.
“As they drove in the general area where the assault was alleged to have occurred, the volunteer’s bag was observed on a table where she pointed it out. The police retrieved the bag and the volunteer identified the contents as her own”.
Items reported missing from the bag were a Peace Corps folder and an identification card with her home address in the United States of America (USA).
“Later she said that EC$60 was in the folder in the bag which was not touched. The alleged disappearance and the alleged return of the volunteer’s purse, not the bag, with the keys in it remain among the many puzzles for the police,” Gonsalves told media personnel.
The Prime Minister said that he has been in touch with the relevant officials from the US Embassy in Barbados and two such officials visited SVG on Monday August 27 and have been working on the investigation with the police.
He added that the police have made available to the American investigators footage from the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) located on a building close to where the incident took place and he has been advised that the CCTV footage shows among other things what appears to be a bag being placed by the volunteer on a table, the very spot from which the bag was later retrieved.
“There is no evidence on the CCTV footage of the alleged incident itself. A sketch artist’s rendition of the volunteer’s description of her alleged assailants have been made available to the police courtesy the relevant officials of the US Embassy.
“The artist’s sketches of both assailants are being circulated to the public to aid the ongoing investigation. The police are addressing this matter at the highest level,” Gonsalves told the gathering.
He added that since the alleged incident, he has spoken to the US Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean on two occasions and representatives of the US and SVG governments are cooperating fully on it.
“I have decided to speak on this matter today because of much fake news which has been in circulation about it including in one local newspaper and in an online regional publication.
“In the case of the latter, the brazen falsehoods were published that one of my sons has allegedly organised a mongoose gang, a group of thugs, smashing vehicles belonging to the Peace Corps volunteers because of their alleged links to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the USA.
“These crude falsehoods are published with the purpose of hurting the ULP government and its leader but in effect do nothing but damage the good name of SVG in the minds of unsuspecting people,” the Prime Minister said.
He said that all patriotic Vincentians at home and abroad should join in the condemnation “of these purveyors of fake news locally and regionally”.
The Prime Minister added that meanwhile, the government continues its ongoing work of making SVG safer and more secure for our citizens, residents and visitors alike.
Commenting on the incident, Commissioner of Police (COP) Colin John said that he is not able to disclose much at this point as the investigation is ongoing. He also noted that he is not sure when the investigations will be completed.
The Commissioner said that when the report from the volunteer was received, the police responded promptly and visited her at the hospital and operated at an efficient and effective manner.
“We have been following all leads and we have been cooperating fully with the US authorities when they came in their investigation. We have indicated the persons who we think can assist in those investigations and we have spoken to those persons,” John commented.
He said that all leads have been followed and the head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Assistant Superintendent of Police Hesron Ballantyne has been assigned to the case.
The Commissioner said that the police is seeking the help of the public and anyone who was around the area of the Leeward Bus Terminal around 7:30 a.m. on Monday, August 20 who has information should come forward.
He said that two sketches have been made public and persons who see those persons should come forward. The Commissioner also showed video surveillance of the area to members of the media.
The footage shows an elderly female placing a bag on a table, taking an umbrella and leaving the area. Three hours later, the footage shows the police pulling up in a vehicle and retrieving the bag from the same area where it was placed.