Kathy-Ann Gomez-Walker’s melancholy eyes gazed lovingly at photographs of her 17-year-old daughter Teri Gomez who disappeared without a trace 13 years ago, leaving a two-year-old baby girl behind.
The mother of ten children has kept a log of ‘Smurfette’, as her sixth child was fondly known, since she went missing.
The mood in Gomez-Walker’s Chaguanas home was sombre when Guardian Media visited her on Thursday.
Gomez-Walker, a tall, strong and resilient woman, continued to carry a heavy weight on her shoulders decades after her daughter disappeared.
At the start of the interview, Gomez-Walker, overcome with grief, sighed deeply at intervals and almost got up to leave when memories of her missing daughter came flooding back like an emotional tsunami.
She never once cried, but struggled to suppress her emotions when she spoke about the ordeal she and her family continue to go through not knowing the fate of her daughter.
It was the kidnapping of 22-year-old Arima court clerk Andrea Bharatt on January 29 and the arrest of Joel Balcon, the man believed to be the mastermind in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Bharatt, that brought Teri’s case centre stage.
When the family heard that Balcon was arrested, a torrent of emotions flooded back for Gomez-Walker and her family. The grief was raw. Balcon was the father of Teri’s child. Teri had gone missing on January 28, 2008, a day after she took her daughter to Balcon’s home to spend the weekend upon his request.
Teri had been involved in an abusive and tumultuous relationship with Balcon who Gomez-Walker said beat her unconscious once in Curepe Junction causing her to undergo surgery. Tony Vincent, her sister, fought with Balcon who she injured. Vincent inflicted a wound which one of the victims he raped spoke about recently.
On another occasion Balcon raped, beat and broke Teri’s hands in a forested area near Duranta Gardens in Sangre Grande. Both matters reached the court.
Gomez-Walker said when they heard Balcon was arrested for Bharatt’s kidnapping, her daughter Tony posted a video on Facebook beseeching Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith to reopen Teri’s cold case file.
Gomez-Walker said she felt pain for her missing daughter but mostly relief when she heard that Balcon was in police custody. It was a chance for her to find out what he had done with her daughter, she said.
The day after Bharatt’s body was found in the Heights of Aripo, on February 4, human remains were found near the area. Police sources said the main suspect in Bharatt’s murder used the area as a killing field and bodies were buried there. Balcon later died at the Intensive Care Unit at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, on February 8.
‘She was the family clown’
“Teri always had everyone in the family laughing. She was the family clown and then she just disappeared. After that, there was only sadness.
“We know he (Balcon) did something to her, but we couldn’t prove it. We weren’t getting any assistance from the police or anyone but he finally talked,” Gomez-Walker said.
She said she felt much better right now, she was 100 per cent sure that it was her daughter’s bones that were discovered in the Aripo forest, despite no DNA analysis.
Wrapping her hands into each other nervously, her body heaving as she breathed deeply, turning her head upwards, sideways and downwards, barely making eye contact with GML representatives, the pain for Gomez-Walker seemed unbearable and overbearing. The decade and more that had passed meant nothing to her broken heart as she related the circumstances surrounding her missing daughter.
She has kept every piece of document from the station reports, while every incident and interaction with Balcon’s family was written down in a book and kept.
Gomez-Walker said “I went through grief and trauma. I couldn’t sleep, I was stressed out, I had a miscarriage, it went on for years and I was suffering silently.”
Gomez-Walker said when Teri gave birth and Balcon visited the hospital, he claimed the child was not his own since she was “too white.” He never returned to see the baby and did not contribute to the welfare of the child, she said. Teri and her family raised the child on their own for two years.
When Teri disappeared, Balcon and his family never returned the child to them, although she had been taken to see him for only a weekend before Teri disappeared.
When Teri disappeared, Balcon and his family never returned the child to them. Instead, they filed custody for the child claiming that Teri had abandoned the baby girl. Gomez-Walker was shattered even more. “I suffered a nervous breakdown, especially when I was not getting to see Teri’s daughter. We did everything for that child when he disowned her.”
Balcon and his family, she said, “who had police connections,” made life a living hell for her.
Gomez-Walker said for years her family fought to see Teri’s daughter. They would receive calls from Balcon’s family saying what she needed, they would gather clothes and other items in large bags and carry them to be handed over to an intermediary in Arima, who would then tell them they will see the child another time.
She said it was only after Balcon was arrested upon his return from Tobago and was held for two weeks at the Arouca station, a female relative agreed to let her see Teri’s daughter.
The child was about five or six when they finally let Gomez-Walker see her.
‘I couldn’t even pray, I felt lost most of the time’
Prayers and the responsibility to support her other nine children kept her. But to be honest, she said, “sometimes I couldn’t even pray, I felt lost most of the time.”
She said when Teri attended Mt Hope Secondary School, she met Balcon, who went by the name “Fabu”, short for “Fabulous”. When family friends saw her going to Arima in the maxi which Balcon worked on more than once, they told her and she reported it to the Arouca Police Station in Five Rivers Junction. However, she said, the policewoman on duty was very rude and refused to take the report.
Gomez-Walker said she went by her brother-in-law for his assistance in searching for the maxi, but when Balcon realised that they were searching for him, the maxi could not be found on the route for some time. Two months later they discovered Teri, 15, was already five months pregnant for Balcon.
When Teri failed to reach home by 4 pm on January 28, 2008 and did not answer calls to her cellphone, her mother went to report it to the police but was told to return after 48 hours, which she did.
When she returned to the station again, she said the police officers assigned to the matter told her Balcon’s female relative told her Teri and Balcon were lovers, everything was okay, and the baby was with them.
Gomez-Walker said she knew something was wrong because Balcon’s court matter involving Teri was supposed to be called two months later, in March that year, but she couldn’t prove anything. She was then referred to the AKS (Anti-Kidnapping Squad), where she claimed some officers were callous. “When I called asking if there were any developments in my daughter’s case, they would ask me why I was calling, if they heard anything, they will call me.”
Their response was condescending at best like she was “a nobody.”
She said during this ordeal she had a miscarriage, but never gave up looking for her daughter or grandchild, placing ads in the newspapers, only knowing the area her grandchild lived was in Sangre Grande, narrowing down the address to Oropouche Road, but that was a dead-end as Balcon could not be found.
She said the system has failed her daughter after so many years. The biggest stumbling block in trying to get information on her daughter and grandchild were the investigating officer who seemed to be on the side of Balcon’s family.
She said she almost went broke paying private investigators and hiring cars for $400 to $500 to go to Sangre Grande in search of Teri.
Gomez-Walker said she was almost arrested at the Arima Police Station when she was reported by one of Balcon’s relative who claimed she kidnapped her grandchild.
After years passed, she said, Balcon’s relative said they could not afford to keep Teri’s daughter anymore. Gomez-Walker kept her for a while when she was sitting SEA, and she was in Brasso by one of Balcon’s relatives.
Gomez-Walker said her granddaughter was abused as she grew older and she was forced to go back and forth at all hours of the night to comfort her. She produced receipts from the station to show that she had made the report. The child eventually ran away from them and came by her when she lived in Chaguanas.
Gomez-Walker said the Child Protection Unit of the T&T Police Service later called and asked if she was willing to take care of Teri’s child. Balcon was contacted in prison and was asked to verify if she was her grandmother and he said it was safe to stay with Gomez-Walker.
She said her granddaughter stayed with her for three years before and after SEA, all the while facing hell from Balcon’s relative.
Gomez-Walker said her grandchild was once listed as a missing person by the TTPS after Balcon’s relative made a report. She said the woman gave the child money to go to the home of a family member but then claimed she ran away.
The child is now in the care of the State and Gomez-Walker said a female relative of Balcon is still trying to deny her access to see the young girl. But she will fight to help her grandchild, she said.
Saying Balcon was a monster who abused women, Gomez-Walker said apart from her daughter, there might have been several other victims.
One of Balcon’s girlfriends, she said, was part of a gang robbing maxi taxi passengers around the fortnight or month-end period between Arima and Sangre Grande. But while trying to get Gomez-Walker in trouble at the Arima station one night, a victim spotted Balcon’s girlfriend and identified her as an accomplice in a robbery and the police gave chase, shifting the focus away from Gomez-Walker.
She also confirmed that Balcon and Andrew “Solo” Morris, who was also arrested in connection with Bharatt’s kidnapping and murder, had been close since Teri was alive.
Gomez-Walker said she did not have anything bad to say about Balcon’s father, “he was a very nice man.” She said a female relative, however, knew all the evil deeds he did.
Gomez-Walker said she still misses her daughter, especially at Christmas and holidays. Her son Jamal, 19, was very close to her, when he was born, Teri babysat him. He has been affected badly. Tony, too, has not been coping well.
The family is making arrangements to go to the police to identify the bones found in Aripo.