The shooting of Ms McKinnon

Stabroek News
April 22, 2001

The Monday before last Ms Donna McKinnon, a vendor, and Mr Ramnarine Bhood were shot while they sought refuge from the police who were dispersing a crowd at the corner of Robb and Wellington streets. Ms McKinnon's injuries proved fatal, while Mr Bhoda was hospitalised with a gunshot wound to the lumbar region. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are still unclear, and the police have offered a reward of $250,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever fired the shots.

According to Mr Caesar, the reputed husband of Ms McKinnon, the two of them along with other people were standing near the Metropole cinema watching the fire which razed buildings both in Robb and Regent streets on April 9. A few minutes after five o'clock, the 'black clothes' police arrived firing into the air in order to disperse the gathering. As soon as the shots rang out, the crowd scattered, many of them west up Robb street. Ms McKinnon, Mr Bhood and a few others ran to (or in Mr Bhood's case, past) the empty lot next to Freedom House where the vendor's body was later discovered lying under some galvanized sheeting.

In the normal course of events the finger of suspicion would be pointing at the black clothes police, but in this instance there is a wild card in the story. Eyewitnesses at the scene reported seeing men standing on a landing at the back of Freedom House, one of whom was holding a handgun which he was pointing at the empty lot. One witness reported that a group of police standing at the corner of Robb and Wellington looked up to the landing and gesticulated to the persons there. They then disappeared inside save for one man dressed in black who was caught on camera.

The question is, was Ms McKinnon shot by the police, or was she shot by the unidentified gunman firing from the back of Freedom House? The first thing that has to be done is to eliminate (or otherwise) the police from the equation, which is surely not an insurmountable task. The Commissioner of Police must know what it was his men were firing that day - pellets or bullets. If it was the former, then that means it wasn't a member or members of the Target Special Squad who killed Ms McKinnon and he should make a public announcement of that fact. If it was the latter, then he must know what weapons and calibre ammunition they were using and whether these are in correspondence with the evidence.

So what is the evidence? In the first instance, of course, it would be any ammunition found in the body itself. However, Ms McKinnon's family told this newspaper that the police had informed them that no bullets had been retrieved during the post mortem, although a shell casing and a warhead had been found in the grass of the empty lot. One member maintained, however, that of the two gunshot wounds they noticed when the body was being dressed for burial, only one had an exit wound. If that observation was correct, then what happened to the bullet?

The story is complicated by the fact that Ms McKinnon's relatives maintain that her remains were removed from the hospital mortuary the day before the autopsy. If that is indeed the case, then where were they taken, on whose authority, and for what reason?

It is also important to know whether all Ms McKinnon's wounds are consistent with a single weapon being used, or whether they originated from different kinds of gun. If the latter, then that would possibly, although not necessarily, implicate the police as well as some other gunman. And if the former, then did the injuries suggest a large calibre weapon or a small one? And as for the shell casing, etc, allegedly found on the empty lot, the police have had nothing to say about that to date, despite its evidential significance.

Mr Bhood, who was shot in the lower back at around the same time has a bullet lodged between his left rib and his spine, which cannot be removed in Guyana. However, X-rays of his injuries have been taken, and while presumably these will not specifically identify the ammunition, a ballistics expert might be able to determine from what category of weapon it was fired. This newspaper was told that he was shot in the left side while he was walking north along the pavement past the empty lot, and that the entry of the bullet was slightly downwards. Prima facie, that does not suggest that he was shot by the police.

For entirely different reasons relating to health, one hopes that the administration would be prepared to send Mr Bhood abroad for an expert opinion as to whether the bullet in his back should be removed or not. If the view is that it should be and can be, then clearly it would become possible to retrieve an important item of evidence.

Then there is the question of the trajectory of the bullet which killed Ms McKinnon. Was she shot in the back or from the front? What have ballistics experts had to say about the trajectory? As far as the public is aware, no one knows in which direction she was facing when she was shot, or even exactly where she was when she was hit. It has been alleged that the bullet which killed the vendor did not enter and exit at an acute angle, seeming to suggest that it did not come from the Freedom House gunman who was firing from a height. The Evening News on April 19, sought to explain this by saying that she could have run away in a crouching position after taking refuge beside a wall. Whatever the case, at this stage there seems little point in the police not releasing the results of the post mortem.

The other question to which people would like an answer is why Ms McKinnon's body was found under galvanised sheeting? Was she covered by someone, or was there any evidence in the grass to suggest that mortally wounded, she had crawled there for protection? Did the police, for example, do any analysis of the scene before they removed her body, and was a police photographer called to record it? If the evidence tends to the supposition that someone placed the sheeting over Ms McKinnon, then when was this done and why? Have the police followed up on this line of enquiry?

The Government has indicated a preparedness to exhume the body of Ms McKinnon and have a second autopsy performed by an independent pathologist from abroad. Why this suggestion came so late is not clear, since one week and a half elapsed between the time she was killed and her funeral. In addition one wonders whether an exhumation and second post mortem are really necessary if hard ballistics evidence could be forthcoming. In any event, the family is understandably opposed to exhuming her body.

Finally, the public would like to know whether the police have interviewed the men on the landing at Freedom House, in particular the gunman. Footage of one of the men (not while he was firing) has been shown on the Evening News, and one might have thought that he was potentially identifiable from the video recording. One might have thought too that the People's Progressive Party would be anxious to clear up the mystery, and either exonerate a member of what one presumes is their security personnel, or allow the law to take its course if the evidence suggests that he may be culpable.

On a different note, one understands that the two major political parties will have armed security guards on their premises for protection. But if their headquarters are not in imminent danger of invasion, then those guards should not be in view at all. In this case, Freedom House was not under immediate threat, and those who ran to the empty lot were clearly taking refuge from the police. No security men should have been in view on the landing; they could have easily monitored the situation from the windows. Most of all, whether or not someone from Freedom House actually shot either Ms McKinnon, Mr Bhood or both, they should certainly never, never have been firing a weapon in those circumstances. At the very least, the PPP should issue stringent guidelines to its personnel, and the public waits to hear a statement from them on the subject.

As for the shootings themselves, the public waits to hear from the Minister of Home Affairs and/or Commissioner of Police for a progress report on their investigations.