Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
“They are monsters,” Candice Riley said as she wept openly on the phone for her 18-year-old daughter Ashanti Riley.
Sometime after the teenager went missing after leaving her Lloyd Street, San Juan home, her killers dumped her body in a Santa Cruz river after raping her repeatedly. She was finally found by police yesterday, leaving her mother and other relatives heartbroken.
“It’s hard to lose your child because you did not bring them here to bury them like that. Now I know how other mothers feel when they lose their child to these monsters,” Riley said, her voice trailing off into deep sobs as she broke down.
Ashanti’s body was found early yesterday by a team of police officers, after the 32-year-old PH driver who had picked her up last Sunday was later detained. He finally broke under police questioning – telling them the location of her body and also fingering two other men responsible for her killing. One of those suspects was later detained by Homicide officers at Laventille Road, San Juan, while they continue the hunt for a third suspect.
Still in disbelief over her daughter’s loss, Candice said she immediately knew something was wrong mere hours after Ashanti did not turn up at her grandmother’s home in Cocorite.
“We only moved here about two months ago, so she took the taxi going higher up the road, which was then to go back down into the Croisee in San Juan. There, she was supposed to meet her boyfriend and they would travel to Port-of-Spain to meet her cousins and then they would travel to her grandmother’s place in Cocorite,” explained the grief-stricken mother.
But alarm bells went off when Ashanti never met up with her boyfriend and the concerned mother decided to make a missing person’s report to the San Juan Police Station immediately.
“I went to the police station and was treated good – I remember a Sargeant Thomas being nice to me. But there were other officers who asked some questions which I know they have to ask. But it’s the way they asked the questions, I believe that took me aback,” she recalled.
“They were asking me in a manner as if my child was some kind of “bad thing” and whether I would put my head on a block for her. I said I can put my head on a block for her because Ashanti is not that kind of child at all.
“That is why I did not wait till late Sunday night or on Monday morning to go and make the report because I know it’s not typical of her to just go missing and not tell me where she is going.”
Recounting the moments last Sunday when she saw her daughter alive for the last time, she said, “Ashanti and I were alone home because the other two children went by relatives. I went to Tunapuna early and came back and we both cook. Then she told me ma, I going by granny for her birthday. Ashanti loved to dress up and wear nice clothes. She was the life of the party you know. Never gave me any trouble.”
Candice said it was only after the disappearance of her daughter that people in the area told her the PH driver in question had allegedly interfered with young women from around the area in the past.
“I only moved into Lloyd Street, Sunshine Avenue, about two months ago, so I don’t really know many people around here. It was only after I heard that the taxi driver who picked up Ashanti had a ‘reputation’.”
In hindsight, she said had she known that before her daughter would have never gotten into that vehicle last Sunday.
Investigators are working on the theory that Ashanti’s killers took her to a motel in East Trinidad where she was apparently raped and later strangled. However, an autopsy will determine her exact cause of death.
Dexter Timothy, the husband of Lisa Riley, Ashanti’s aunt, was given the news about the discovery of her body by his colleagues at work.
He said he rushed to the scene hoping it was not her but the sobering reality set in when he got there.
“The family is not coping too well,” he told Guardian Media at the scene.
“This is a young lady that has been doing her work.”
On social media, the outrage was evident following the discovery of Ashanti’s body, with many expressing increasing concern for the safety of women and girls in this country.
Education Minister and the Member of Parliament for St Ann’s East Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly was one of them.
“I feel so sick,” she said.
“This one is so close to home. Literally. This could have been me. This could have been my sister, my daughter. Oh, God!”
Nearby residents also expressed shock and dismay that such a gruesome act had taken place in this quiet community.
One woman said she frequently goes running along the trail. She is the mother of seven, five of whom are girls, and she continues to talk to them about their safety, she said. The woman, who did not want to be identified, said the case was a grim reminder of the fact that women are not safe. She said she recognised Ashanti from seeing her in San Juan and it was a loss that hit home. She said it also was shocking the distance her attackers travelled to dump the body.
The path leading to the river where Ashanti was dumped quickly changed from a paved road into a muddy dirt trail that could only fit one car at a time. — With reporting by Soyini Grey