On the night of June 13, 2002 a large band of gunmen invaded the ocean-front residence of a Vergenoegen sawmiller and shot dead a 60-year-old businesswoman and her dog, leaving her husband severely wounded.
By the next morning, news of the attack had swept through the village and across the country. Claudette Ng-See-Quan was dead and so was the guard dog, ‘Flo Jo’ that used to follow her wherever she went. Her husband, 64-year-old businessman, Hilton Ng-See-Quan, had sustained gunshot wounds to his leg and abdomen and had to be admitted to a city hospital. The bandits had escaped with the couple’s 9mm pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun, all Mrs. Ng-See-Quan jewellery, as well as $400,000 the Ng-See-Quans had in their possession to pay their employees the following day.
Today, eight months after the attack, Ng-See-Quan is still not prepared to give details about the night that robbed him of a wife and business partner with whom he had shared almost 30 years of his life. He nonetheless agreed to speak with Stabroek News on how the year-long upsurge in crime has affected his life.
“I still would not say what happened that night. I am not ready to speak about what happened that night...[but] to sum it up in a nice way...it is like a bottle of champagne gone flat, all fizzled out. Physically I am alright, but mentally...I still have nightmares and snatches of the incident. I was wide awake when it happened...I saw my wife being gunned down. That is all I am prepared to say about that night,” the sawmiller said quietly from his heavily protected sitting room as three large guard dogs growled menacingly at me from the other side of the glass sliding doors.
The conversation slid to ‘Flo Jo’, the dog that was shot dead the night of the attack.
“That one (‘Flo Jo’) was very close to my wife. The two were together at the time and both of them were shot together. She (the dog) was closer to the wife than me...The two of them were side to side when they got shot,” Mr. Ng-See-Quan explained. He pointed to a large brown dog that was pacing restlessly on the other side of the grilled door, while at the same time keeping a pair of large droopy eyes on me. “That’s her (Flo Jo’s) sister.”
One of the most striking things about the Ng-See-Quans’ residence, is that one look at it and “fortress” immediately enters the mind. On that fatal night, the attackers would have had to scale the nine-foot concrete wall enclosing the property and get past numerous guard dogs, as well as the steel grills of protection.
According to the man, that night, all the dogs except ‘Flo Jo’ were scared off by the rapid gunfire.
“You know what bullets do to dogs...they got shy. When they heard the rapid gunfire, they got scared, but not that one (‘Flo Jo’). That was a different breed of dog...”
On Saturday, when this newspaper visited the premises, everything looked the same as the morning after the attack, with one exception. Boldly, a sign on the huge gates warned that the property is now protected by Professional Guard Service (PGS). Does this make the businessman feel any safer?
“I am taking every precaution possible...” the man said simply.
He is still not convinced that many people knew about the large quantity of money he had in his possession that night.
“That’s why I am saying that it was not that somebody knew that I had excess money, because everybody knows that I do not keep money home. I don’t keep money. But there just came a day when I closed up my shop to pay the next day...”
Just four years earlier, in a ‘Window on Guyana’ interview in this newspaper, Ng-See-Quan had spoken about the Vergenoegen sawmill. It was a family business, owned by his own father, Benjamin Quan and his siblings. Benjamin Quan later bought out his siblings’ share of the business and passed it on to his own children. But after the old man’s death, Ng-See-Quan’s relatives emigrated. Hilton Ng-See-Quan, like his father, bought his sibling’s share and has been continuing to operate the sawmill ever since.
But since the near death experience and the tragic loss of his wife, Ng-See-Quan, known to be a shrewd businessman, told this newspaper that he has lost some enthusiasm for his work.
“It was just the two of us,” the man said of his wife, “we were like one for one and one for the other. We depended on each other to do everything...I have now brought back my son-in-law into the business.”
Like many in society, the widower feels that the crime wave can only be arrested if the ruling PPP/C and main Opposition PNCR come together.
“This is a funny situation on the whole, because they blaming these robberies, saying they are political and all. But when you look at it, I do not think it is political, because even some of their own have been targeted. So how could one go about saying that it is political? I am saying that the opposition leader and the president should get together and arrest the problem together,” says Ng-See-Quan who served as a Member of Parliament for the PNCR after the 1992 elections, before switching his support to the PPP/C in the run-up to the 1997 elections.
The burning question many would ask the businessman is why, after such a traumatic experience, did he remain in Guyana? Not surprisingly, his answer was almost the same as the one published in that ‘Window on Guyana’ feature in the not so distant past: “I like Guyana. I don’t have nowhere to go. I don’t foresee myself leaving Guyana, unless I am actually run out of Guyana. After that robbery...not because of my business or anything, but I am a diehard, I love Guyana.”