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Unsolved murders now at 33 – but help is never too late

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The career of Detective Inspector Jason Smith, of the serious crime unit, spans the two decades of unprecedented gun violence and homicide in Bermuda

Bermuda’s catalogue of 33 unsolved murders spanning the past 20 years marked the advent of a new era of crime defined by gangs, the use of guns and a culture of reprisal.

Each killing is also testament to the public’s power to help deliver justice, according to Detective Inspector Jason Smith, of the Bermuda Police Service’s serious crime unit.

“We have to continue to reiterate the message,” Mr Smith told The Royal Gazette.

“These cases are not closed but are in fact wide open — and you hold the key in being able to unlock a lot of doors we can open, and walk through, and bring closure.”

Mr Smith described the essential corroboration between the guidance from helpful information, the gathering of evidence and, ultimately, witness testimony required for justice.

His detective career began in 1995, and his experience investigating the most serious of crimes dates to the 1997 murder of the elderly Beatrice Simons in her home in Dockyard.

In particular, Mr Smith recalls the call in the early hours of April 27, 2003 of the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Shaundae Jones in Dockyard.

“Right from the beginning, I was working on that case,” he said.

Previously, the island seldom saw gun violence. Mr Jones’s murder was a token of the changing times.

Police heard “reports from time to time of shootings or somebody hearing what sounded like a firearm”, Mr Smith said — but there was never evidence to substantiate it.

Gun activity remained infrequent a while after Mr Jones’s murder, but “then we started to get more and more reports of gunshots, and then one or two shootings in between, leading up to the surge in gun crime that we started to get in about 2009”.

Retaliation features in the majority of cases, Mr Smith said.

“Certainly from 2009 we saw a lot of that tit-for-tat going back and forth. That was hot and heavy from 2009 up until more recent times.”

Concurrently, he watched the island’s culture change.

“There’s a lot of insensitivity in some respect towards what’s happening.”

Mr Smith recalled, after graduating as an officer 30 years ago, the scramble to set up an investigations team in the wake of a stabbing on Court Street.

Fast forward to today and “there are more consistent serious, gun-related crime” — with a brazenness unheard of before.

“These crimes are being committed in broad daylight and in full view of people,” he said.

“It’s not even as if the criminal is hiding what they’re doing.

“The big difference is we are seeing people more emboldened to do what they are doing and in front of the public eye.

“For police officers, that’s alarming, when you have people no longer fearful of doing things behind closed doors, under cover of darkness.

“They come out in the light. And that’s because they feel no one is going to report on them.”

Mr Smith noted that 2023 had been “fairly uneventful” compared with past years.

But February 13 came with the gun murder of 23-year-old Kyari Flood — the most recent on the list of the 33 unsolved.

Crime is unpredictable and comes in “waves”, he explained, attributable perhaps to individuals ending up in prison or spending time off the island.

A constant is the need for help from those in the know.

“In the beginning of my career as a detective, we did have much more co-operation from the public.

“People were more willing to come forward and talk with us, let us know what was going on.

“As you look at police forces around the world, there seems to be this trend. People are more reluctant to come forward and talk to the police.

“Some of that is fear of what might happen to them. Some of it just may be apathy.”

But “every single case that we have successfully taken before the courts” hangs on the critical factor of “witnesses who come forward and give evidence”.

Mr Smith acknowledged the trend of reluctance even as he emphasised the crucial role of the public.

“We have people that pick up the phone and give us that information which helps to direct and channel an investigation. We need that; it’s very important.

“But we also need to have witnesses that are prepared to document what they see, so that documentation can be used as part of the evidence, so that we can bring these cases before the courts.”

Mr Smith conceded there were “certain aspects of the community” who might play down the death toll and see retaliatory murders as gang members killing other gang members.

“In all honesty, I think the majority of people care,” he said, comparing the reaction to a murder with the public’s readiness to give aid when a reckless and dangerous driver is in a crash.

“The majority know we are all human and we have our feelings and sensitivities. Generally, people still care, and want what we want, which is justice.”

He added: “At the end of the day, the interest of the Bermuda Police Service is that justice is served, and we bring justice to the families of those victims who have lost their lives.”

Mr Smith highlighted the ripple effect and unseen toll from violent crime.

“There’s one thing in this job you see on a daily basis — the impact crimes have on members of the community, the community at large, and people’s ability to roam freely in the country and live.”

He added: “One of the things you don’t hear reported largely on the news is the silent victim.

“That’s the neighbour, the resident, the member of the community who just happens to be at the wrong place and wrong time when crime has happened.”

He cited ordinary people shocked awake in the early hours and realising gunfire had come close to home.

“Imagine when you hear that, the paralysing effect it has.”

Mr Smith told of “the deafening screaming from someone who was inside a house, near to the victim”, followed by the sirens of police and emergency services, the cordoning-off of the scene and the flashes of photography from crime-scene investigators before quiet returns.

“That silent victim is often left with it still going on in their head, with what they might have seen. They might have seen the victim lying on the ground bleeding.”

Some are left “afraid to go home”.

“I know stories of people who have moved out of their house or left the neighbourhood because of what they saw. The impact on them psychologically is everlasting.”

He added: “That lives with them, on and on and on.”

Mr Smith recalled being stopped recently by a senior who witnessed a murder 12 years ago.

“Up until today, there are times he hears something, smells something, and it immediately takes him back.”

The investigator said he remained optimistic, and that all cases are under review.

“There are some we are fairly close to being able to bring closure. This is why we make the appeal constantly for witnesses.”

He added: “We have cases now that are in fairly advanced stages. In a lot of cases, that holdout is really eyewitnesses or witnesses.”

Police know of WhatsApp chat groups where witnesses to crime have described what they have seen.

“Our message is that if you come and talk to us about these cases, we can solve them. All information is so very, very important.”

Mr Smith said police were attuned to the fears of people coming forward, and could “allay some of those fears”.

“The reality in our message is these 33 cases are 33 lives that have been lost, and there are 33 families that are continuously mourning.

“People within our community who have this information have the key. Come and talk to us. We need to work together in order to resolve these unsolved murders.”

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Published August 14, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 14, 2023 at 7:24 am)

Unsolved murders now at 33 – but help is never too late

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