Buxtonian mistakenly shot and injured by army patrol
By Kim Lucas
August 9, 2002
Members of the Guyana Defence Force mistakenly opened fire on a couple and their two children early yesterday morning at Company Road, Buxton on the East Coast Demerara, injuring the adults as a result.
At the time 27-year-old Ronald Hetsberger, his wife Keshanna, 25, and their two children - Joshua, who is two and a half years old, and Keron, seven years old - were returning home from Plaisance, another East Coast Demerara village.
The army, in a statement yesterday said that at about 1:07 a.m., a GDF patrol was fired upon by a person or persons unknown while moving along Wilkens Road in Buxton. The patrol immediately returned fire in the direction from which the shots came. No one was reported injured during that exchange.
As the patrol continued along, the soldiers observed a vehicle travelling south along Company Road approaching them at a fast rate. “They started to signal for it to stop. The driver did not heed the patrol commander’s instructions to stop and as a result, two shots were discharged, one of which struck the driver in his right shoulder”, the army press release said.
But Hetsberger, a driver attached to Showtime Taxi Service, had a different story. He said that he was about to cross the double bridges to his Company Road home when the soldiers opened fire. He was hit in the right shoulder, while his wife received bruises on her shoulder. The children were not hurt.
Recounting the events from his bed at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation yesterday, Hetsberger told Stabroek News that he had dropped off a passenger in Plaisance, ending his shift. He then decided to pick up his wife and children, who, too, were in Plaisance.
It was sometime after 1 a.m. when he reached Buxton. Hetsberger explained: “I normally stop at the bridge before I go and park the car. Just when I stop, I noticed a movement about less than two feet in front of me. So I just flash the light to see what exactly was there. As I flash the light, I got a gunshot wound.
Then I saw two soldiers who ordered me out of the car, asked me to brace up on the shop that was there. They tap me down and after realising that it was an innocent person that was in the car that was shot, they proceeded to take me to the hospital.”
When the soldiers opened fire on the family, the couple’s seven-year-old son tried to hide under the dashboard of the car. The toddler was asleep at the time.
The man said based on the army’s claim that the patrol came under fire shortly before he arrived, officials probably mistook him for the person or persons who shot at the soldiers.
Top officials of the GDF who visited Hetsberger at the hospital yesterday promised to take full responsibility for the injured man’s welfare.
Hetsberger was the fourth person from the troubled villages of Buxton and Friendship to be shot in less than 24 hours. Early Wednesday morning, two members of the Chester household, one of whom was a 16-year-old girl, were shot at by marauders as their homes were torched.
While the fire was raging at Brusche Dam, another man, 35-year-old Phillip Moriah, of 36 Friendship, said that he was shot at by members of the army while going towards the blaze. He lives about 200 metres south of the Chesters’ burnt residences, on the road before Brushe Dam.
In a telephone interview from where he was under police guard at the Georgetown Hospital yesterday, Moriah told Stabroek News: “After I heard, `Fire, fire!’ I went out to see what it was.
There was a lot of people on the road. A woman and two youth men join me and we decide we will walk together. Whilst going across the empty lot to the fire, I heard rapid gunfire and then I feel a burning sensation on meh hand.”
According to the dreadlocked father of two, the woman and two youths sought cover in a yard, while he jumped across a gutter in an escape bid. Moriah said a split second before he was shot, he spotted three persons in camouflage wear lying in the grass, about 15 metres away.
“When I got shot, I hear one say, `Kill he s... Put two more in he,” the man claimed. He said as he ran, there were more sounds of shooting behind him. The man said he ran to a house in the area and its occupants strapped the wounded right arm. Thereafter, he caught a bus and headed to the hospital. The man’s arm was apparently broken in two places below the elbow. He said he underwent surgery on Wednesday and doctors implanted steel braces in the hand.
That same day, the police said that Moriah was one of the persons responsible for torching the Chesters’ home but the man vehemently denied so. He has been placed under guard since being admitted.
The army yesterday said it is looking at Hetsberger’s case and treating it on its merits. They are still conducting investigations.
Since the lives of two children were endangered and two innocent adults were injured, an army source told Stabroek News that “the operational procedures for all exercises will be complied with to [to prevent such future occurrences].”
Following Stabroek News’ queries, the army also promised to launch an investigation into Moriah’s claims. The initial report was that the GDF had heard of the man’s version, but had no information in support.