Two children, both under the age of two, perished in a fire reportedly set by their father, a 42-year-old secondary school teacher.
Horrified residents from the Warrens Park South district which backs onto the main Warrens artery were jolted by the news that English teacher, Cornelius Barrow who lived at Apt B #93 Regency Drive and his children 22-month-old Riodan Barrow and eight-month-old Rhea perished in the fire which started just after 11.
Thick black smoke filled the air close to one of Barbados’ busiest streets as scores of residents converged on the outskirts of a large police barricade and dozens of firemen attempted to extinguish the flames while police combed the scene. Staff from nearby businesses including Simpson Motors across the street rushed to lend assistance, but there seemed to be little they could do but assist neighbours who were already attempting to soak the blaze with residential hoses before the fire officials converged on the scene.
The presence of personnel from the Criminal Investigations Division and Barbados Defence Force indicated authorities were treating the area as crime scene.
When the fire was brought under control, police and fire officials found the charred remains of the school teacher and the infants.
“Three fire tenders responded and after the fire was brought under control, it was revealed that unfortunately the bodies of three individuals – one adult male and two infants were burnt beyond recognition,” reported Police Public Relations Officer, Acting Inspector Rodney Inniss.
“Our investigations are still continuing into the cause of the fire and whether any other witnesses would have seen and been able to give us any information in respect of that. Obviously it is very tragic for the neighbours and the family members around and we are hoping we can conclude our investigations soon,” added the inspector.
Not long after reports of the fire emerged, social media was abuzz with alleged recent postings of the father referencing divorce action in the law courts. One post claimed “The system failed my children” and “I have no idea what to do anymore.” Police are said to be investigating the link to the posts.
Bewildered residents today recounted the series of events leading up to the fateful result.
“I heard the explosion and when I came out, I saw the girl [resident] over there trying to extinguish the fire with a hose. When she heard the [explosion], she …tried to get a hose and all I could have done was run to assist her. But the hose couldn’t reach. So there was nothing we could do besides wait on the fire engine to come,” said Ervin Babb, who lives nearby.
Emotionally, he recalled: “I didn’t even know people were in there…When I heard about the two children I became sad and I don’t want to talk much about it because it really hurts me.”
The three victims lived in one of four apartments of a two-storey building. The other three sections of the complex were not badly damaged.
Richard Haynes, who works at a nearby barbershop, was cutting the hair of a tenant of the building and said the two nervously ventured near the scene after hearing the news.
“From the time I saw the [caution] tape I knew someone had died and I told her to just be calm… It isn’t easy to actually come and see something like this and with two children involve. It is very serious,” he said.
The deceased, was last assigned to the Coleridge and Parry School in St Peter and was engaged in a court battle with his wife, Jovona Johnson-Barrow over the two children.
Residents do not regard the community as close-knit and the affairs of neighbours are usually very private, they say. One resident, however recalled often seeing the deceased father playing outside with his two children and said he appeared to be very committed.
“We are taken aback. People out here usually keep to themselves, but it is definitely a shock,” said another resident.