Nine Jane Does from Haitian boat tragedy buried

On Saturday afternoon, in the quiet of Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road, nine white steel caskets were lined off, each topped with a large arrangement of yellow and white flowers in a bed of lush, green leaves.

On either side of the line of caskets stood the Bahamian flag and the Haitian flag.

Eight of the caskets were trimmed in yellow gold. The one placed at the center, which led a solemn procession, was rose gold.

Inside was the body of a mother, who was pregnant when she, along with 16 other people, all believed to be Haitians, and mostly all women, were killed when the 30-foot speedboat they were traveling on, reportedly bound for Miami, Florida, capsized seven miles off New Providence shortly after 1 a.m. on July 24.

The infant who died in his mother’s womb in that tragedy was removed from her body after it was retrieved, and funeral home officials placed him in his mother’s casket.

Pamela Williams of Legacy Memorial Mortuary said she wanted the casket that held the mother and child to stand out from the others.

Speaking at the service, Williams said she spent days weeping over the bodies of the women and the child, whose names she did not know, and perhaps will never know.

The nine women buried on Saturday were nameless.

There was no viewing for them, except by Haitian embassy staff.

There were no eulogies.

There were no photos of them in the two-page funeral program with the Haitian coat of arms on the cover surrounded by images of white doves.

There were no families present to mourn their dead.

There were no friends or colleagues paying their final respects.

The large venue, which was provided by the Catholic archbishop, amplified the absence of mourners.

There were just over 20 people in attendance at the funeral, which took place 10 weeks after the human smuggling tragedy.

Ambassador Louis Harold Joseph, chargè d’affaires at the Embassy of Haiti in The Bahamas, and several members of his staff, a few pastors and Haitian community leaders, and Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander, along with a Catholic priest, were present.

But there was no Bahamas government official in attendance.

Over 90 percent of the seating in the hall remained empty.

Still, those gathered were determined to give the Jane Does a dignified send-off.

There were scripture readings and hymns sang in both English and Creole.

Rev. Father Junior Calixte of the Catholic Diocese prayed for the souls of the dead, then honored the deceased by censing their caskets.

Father Junior Calixte during a funeral service held at Loyola Hall on Saturday for nine Jane Does and an infant who were killed during a human smuggling operation on July 24, 2022. DANTE CARRER

But the funeral was more than just about honoring the nameless dead. It was also a time to highlight the dangers of human smuggling operations with several speakers saying enough is enough and imploring Haitians not to attempt these illegal voyages.

“These funerals of our countrywomen, our nine sisters, have thrown us into mourning,” Ambassador Joseph said.

“They were looking for a better life for themselves, for their children and for their families. They lost their lives.”

Joseph said Haitians must draw a lesson from the most recent tragedy.

“My brothers and sisters, it is true that the situation in our country is difficult, but this is not a sufficient reason to undertake perilous trips,” he said.

“The organizers of illegal trips are not necessarily in your interest. Their main motive is to make money. If they were in your interest, they would have taken all the necessary measures to protect the lives of their passengers, the life that the Lord God gave us and that we have the obligation to protect.”

Several days after the capsizing, four men – including two who were rescued along with other survivors – were charged with 18 counts of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of the 17 deceased passengers and the infant.

They could face life imprisonment if convicted.

These smuggling tragedies have occurred in Bahamian territory and in waters surrounding Turks and Caicos, Florida and elsewhere over the years as untold numbers of Haitians have fled Haiti hoping to start afresh with greater opportunities.

Joseph served as ambassador to The Bahamas from 2002 to 2010.

He recently arrived back in The Bahamas, but as Haiti does not now have a president, and Parliament, he is the new chargè d’affaires.

Addressing his remarks toward Haitians, Joseph said, “I have always said and will continue to say to you: The Bahamian government and people have offered you their hospitality. You should make every effort to not abuse this hospitality, while the Embassy of Haiti in The Bahamas will do everything in its power to ensure your protection.”

When he spoke, Rev. Dr. Antoine St. Louis, president of United Association of Haitians in The Bahamas (UAHB), sent a message to the Haitian government, which he hoped Joseph would convey.

“We have the ambassador from the Republic of Haiti who is present,” St. Louis said.

“We can send a clear message by way of the ambassador that the Haitian government must do more. They must do more to stop the gangs in Haiti. They need to establish more work, so that these young people will not lose their lives this way.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to send a message to everyone who is living in Haiti, to tell them this is not the way they should lose their lives.”

He asked those present to pray for a better relationship between Haiti and The Bahamas.

Minister Robert Dieudonne, of UAHB, said he prays daily for Haiti.

“Looking back, to some degree, prevents us from moving forward,” Dieudonne said.

“So, in moving forward, I would say collectively, individually, we all must say enough is enough. Collectively, individually, we all must say this must stop.

“I know the most difficult part. The most difficult part is everybody is going to say ‘how’. We don’t have to know how.

“Those who know me in my quest personally and professionally know I don’t figure out the how.

“You have to have a purpose. Once you have a purpose, once you know your ‘what’ and you know your ‘why’, God will show you. If you focus on the ‘how’, you will get nothing done.”

St. Louis said the moment was sad, not just because of the tragedy, but because no one claimed the bodies of the women.

The families of the other six women, one man and one girl killed in the smuggling operation, claimed their bodies, and most, if not all, were previously buried, St. Louis told The Nassau Guardian.

“I was hoping that someone would have come and say, ‘I know this person; I know this person’, but, unfortunately, that is not the case, so that makes it harder for the community to have these nine ladies that no one can identify,” St. Louis said.

Williams, the funeral home director, said she wrapped the baby in a receiving blanket before he was placed in his mother’s casket.

“It was difficult because normally when I’m doing funerals, I have family members who I can liaise with,” she told The Guardian outside Loyola Hall after leading the quiet march ahead of the caskets outside where they were placed in cars for a short drive to Southern Cemetery on Spikenard Road.

“In this incident, I had nobody but the embassy and it touched me because you’re looking at nine beautiful women and an infant and that hurt me because there was no one there.

“It is just so touching to see these young ladies, just thinking about how they perished, what they went through; it’s hard.”

After final prayers at the cemetery, dirt was sprinkled on the nine caskets as the bodies were committed, then lowered into the ground, three per hole.

Those who attended prayed never to be at this spot again but, undoubtedly, with the deep and protracted complex crises in Haiti, fears linger that more Haitians will take these treacherous journeys, risking their lives in hopes of finding better lives in more prosperous lands.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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