Bereaved child on overcoming trauma
Nizigh Spence was just seven years old when his stepfather James “Junior” Lawes was shot dead.
A year later, his second cousin Randy Robinson was murdered, leaving Nizigh and his family to deal with another tragic loss.
Now, aged 15, he has learnt to deal with the pain and grief that comes hand-in-hand with gun crime in Bermuda thanks to family, friends, counsellors and his own strength of character.
Nizigh said sport has been his “escape” from traumatic memories and he dreams of pursuing his footballing ambitions abroad.
The teenager spoke about the difficulties he has faced in the wake of successive family tragedies as the world marks International Children's Grief Awareness Day today.
He said: “I was only seven when Junior died, so it was hard to take in because of the way it happened and it was just a huge shock.
“I had been with my mom when she heard he had been shot. She rushed around the corner to where it had happened but I stayed with family and didn't see her for a day.
“I only found out Junior had died much later and it seems a blur looking back now. We were really close so it was hard to deal with and it didn't feel real at the time.”
Mr Lawes was gunned down on March 19, 2010, as he stood across from bar Place's Place in Hamilton's Dundonald Street.
He was rushed to hospital but died of his injuries just over 24 hours later
Two other men, Maurice Martin and Robin Stovell, were injured when the gunman opened fire from the back of a motorcycle.
Detectives later confirmed that there was nothing to suggest Mr Lawes was a gang member.
In the aftermath of the murder, Nizigh was taken out of school while the family travelled to Jamaica for a month for Mr Lawes's funeral.
Nizigh said: “I remember getting letters and cards from my classmates while I was away. The whole school did it and it made me feel they were all supporting me.”
The family returned to Bermuda and Nizigh moved to Victor Scott School in Pembroke at in September 2010.
His mother, Greashena Spence, said: “We moved Nizigh because Victor Scott had a crisis team in place and helped other children deal with similar circumstances to his. There was seven or eight children receiving counselling at the time.”
Nizigh added: “I found it hard to focus in the years after Junior died, but the counsellors at Victor Scott helped with that. They showed me different ways to focus and concentrate.
“At the time I didn't really want to talk about it, but people kept asking me questions. Some of my friends had gone through what I was going through, so it helped having them.
“It showed me that I could get through what was happening in my life. It helped me understand more about life and made me appreciate people more.”
His mother said she believed the experiences her son has gone through have made him more cautious and more mature than his peers.
Nizigh said: “I still think about what has happened a lot. More times at night, just before I go to bed.
“I'm more cautious about where I go at night because of what has happened to people close to me.
“I still don't like to talk about what has happened to me, and I would not necessarily give others advice.
“But I do try and listen to other young boys who have gone through what I have and try to support them.”
The Dandy Town player helps his grandmother, community activist Gina Spence, and her Champions Programme, which is aimed at helping children left behind by gun violence.
He added: “Sport helps me forget about it all. I hold things inside because I don't want that label of ‘oh he was the boy whose stepdad was shot'.”
Last year, Nizigh and his mother became the first Bermudians to participate in the US Comfort Zone programme, which is designed to give support to children who have gone through major trauma.
Nizigh said: “I met people who had gone through worse than me. It helped me become stronger because of what I have gone through.”
Gina Spence is helping to mark Children's Grief Awareness Day with a special assembly at Clearwater Middle School today at 10.30am.
Gina Spence Productions is also running a radio and social-media campaign with tips on how to help grieving children between November 14 to 16.
Ms Spence said: “We are asking the community to wear blue in support of Children's Grief Awareness Day.”