PORT OF SPAIN –– Leaving their lunch kits and book bags behind, terrified students of Point Fortin RC Primary School ran out of classes Tuesday after hearing rumours that two hand grenades were lying in a bin at their school.
An evacuation occurred an hour after an object resembling a grenade was found by a sanitation worker along the Techier Link Road, Point Fortin, around 7 a.m. This was followed by an unconfirmed report of bomb scare at a financial institution in the heart of Point Fortin.
While terror gripped residents, students, parents and teachers, police from the Explosive Detection and Disposal Unit made checks for explosives.
Police cordoned off the road for several hours while residents huddled together in groups waiting for news.
By 10:30 a.m., however, panic turned to relief when police revealed the device appeared to be a cigarette lighter resembling a grenade. Nothing was found in the school bins and there was also no bomb at the businessplace.
Several residents who were interviewed said the incidents were meant to create fear and panic in the community.
Newspaper vendor, Claudia Booker, said she was on her way to make deliveries around 8:30 a.m. when a student ran out saying “Ms Booker, ISIS come to we school.”
“The child was trembling. These children innocent. Why they threatening to put bombs in schools? Why they doing that to these children? Point people are quiet people. We don’t interfere with anybody else? The people who doing this are cowards,” Booker declared.
Principal Erika Tracy was not at school Tuesday. The school has a population of over 600 pupils and 23 teachers.
Officers from Atlantic’s Crisis Management and Emergency Response Unit, led by Fire Chief Mervyn Humphrey, arrived and assisted in evacuating the students. Fire Sub-officer Joanne Edwards from the Point Fortin Fire headquarters also assured residents and parents the area was safe.
Kwame Bedeau, who came to pick up his daughter, said he was very concerned about the children’s safety.
“Apparently somebody decided to put that information out to trigger panic. I don’t know why,” Bedeau added.
Parent Chivel White was seen hurriedly pulling her sons—Akini and Amari Constantine—and bundling them into a car.
“I don’t know what is the problem but I am not sticking around here,” White added.
Resident Joan Wells added: “It is scary to think that something like this could happen. We have to be careful.”
She said there was already enough fear in the country following recent voice recordings that schools, malls and churches would be bombed by ISIS.
“It was sad seeing parents coming frantically for their children. People are saying that nothing is being done about crime and we want people in authority to do something about it,” Wells said.
In a statement late Tuesday, the T&T Defence Force said its ammunition specialists had confirmed the object was a lighter.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia said Tuesday the incident was being investigated while the T&T Unified Teachers Association said the safety of students and teachers was of paramount importance.
In the Senate Tuesday, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon lauded the efforts of the Point Fortin resident who he said discovered the so called “hand grenade” which later turned out to be a cigarette lighter.
Dillon spoke about the situation while replying to questions from Opposition Senator Wade Mark, who noted the “grenade” was found in Dillon’s Point Fortin constituency.
Dillon replied: “I have put on the record that the alleged device that was found at a school near Point Fortin, about a quarter mile away from the Point Fortin RC School, based on information from the Commissioner of Police, was in fact a hoax. It was not a real device. It turned out to be a cigarette lighter in the shape of a hand grenade.
“But I also want to take the opportunity to compliment the resident of Point Fortin [who found it] for his act of patriotism, for understanding and taking the message we have been sending from the Ministry of National Security, ‘If you see it, report it.’ So I want to compliment that Point Fortin resident for reporting what he believed to be a device.”
He added: “I also want to ensure the citizens of T&T that the security forces are doing all that is required to prevent even one hand grenade or other illicit weapons coming into T&T. But we also want to ask citizens, ‘if you see it, report it’ because we depend on every citizen to contribute and participate in security measures in T&T.”