This Eid-ul-Fitr, Couva mother of three Radica Matagoolam would have awakened before sunrise and offered her prayers, begging Lord Shiva and Hanuman for enlightenment about her missing son.
Radica is a Hindu, but Eid is significant for her as her last child, Anil, walked out from her home two days before the religious holiday three years ago and vanished without a trace.
The mother weeps at the mention of her “baby” Anil, as her grief over his loss is at odds with the thought of whether she would see him again one day.
“Every day I miss him and I grieve. Sometimes I feel as if my head will burst,” she told Express in a telephone interview this week. Nineteen-year-old Anil was last seen on June 13, 2018, when he left his home telling his relatives he was meeting friends at a car wash near their home at Rivulet Road, Couva.
When he did not return home that night, the family assumed he was at his girlfriend’s house.
The next day when the girlfriend called, asking about him, and none of his friends said they had seen him, Anil’s family went to the Couva police to report him missing, and organised search parties of their own.
Pranksters and extortionists
Anil’s sister, Indrani, 34, spoke this week of the tireless efforts to find her brother.
“I didn’t care to eat, I would go out there searching. I would get a clip (group) and walk through the bamboo patch, along the line, Esperanza, Sevilla, Phoenix Park, Milton—you name it, and I was there looking for Anil. Any- and everywhere I searched, even if I was frightened. I said, ‘If I have to die, let them kill me, too.’
“I used to feel like my head wanted to burst and like my guts wanted to come out of my body. But I found the strength and went to the Forensic Science Centre and mortuaries, enquiring about my brother. This experience has made me stronger and harder as a person. I made up my mind to find out what happened to him, alive or dead,” she said.
The family had printed flyers with his picture and their phone contact, but the feedback ranged from well-wishers and prayer groups to extortionists.
One prank caller told the family he was kidnapped, and demanded $50,000. They claimed he was held captive at a Toco house, but their description of Anil did not fit.
The ransom demand was a hoax, as criminals capitalised on their loss and pain, Indrani said.
“They asked us for the money and, in exchange, we would get back Anil. When my brother asked for a description, they said the person is a dark-skinned guy with a rasta hairstyle. They were playing for the money. That was one of many prank calls.
“Some of them used to say that they would let us talk to him. People just wanted money and they knew we would have done anything to hear his voice again and get him back,” she said.
With each passing day and week, the family’s anguish, anxiety and despair were fed as they were told of numerous reports of shootings and human remains that might be Anil’s.
They heard of a man shot in Laventille near a public savannah.
“Someone called my brother phone and said, ‘They now shoot your brother in Laventille.’ He cried so much. He went to the police station and the police told him, ‘No, calm yourself that was not him.’”
Then there were the burnt remains of a man found at Rivulet Road near the old Brechin Castle sugar factory weeks later.
Among the remains were gold teeth, similar to what Anil had implanted, and the family’s emotions again hung in the balance.
“We found out that those teeth belonged to an older man. The dentures were not a match for him, thank God,” said Indrani.
It was not a future that the close-knit family saw for Anil, whom his relatives described as ambitious and hard-working, but yet spoiled by his family.
Anil attended the California Government Primary School, then the Union/Claxton Bay Secondary School.
He passed his subjects and got a job at a chicken depot earning an independent life while living with his family.
“The work was nothing to talk about, but the pay was good, so he stayed there. Anil was doing well on the job, then he slipped and fell off the delivery truck and got an injury. So, he was at home those last few days because he was unable to work with the injury,” said the sister.
Police have said everything is on hold, that they don’t have any evidence to proceed with a case. They said that the police officer who was investigating has passed away. Indrani’s reaction was indifferent.
“I didn’t feel no how or no way because that was no surprise to me. Right around we have not been getting any help for the last couple of years. My brother was a friendly person. He had respect for everyone. Tomorrow (Wednesday) will make it two years and 11 months since he went missing.
Over the last week, as news of another young man—missing farmer Becker Seelal, 28—broke in their village, the family sought answers from the police about Anil’s case.
“My brother, Rishi, went to the Couva police on Monday to enquire about the investigations. It would have been better if he did not go. They told him that the corporal who was assigned to the case had died. And that there was not enough evidence to hold anyone in custody or charge them with anything. So, we just left hanging,” she said.
“Look how many people missing since. You think they are looking into my brother’s case?” Indrani asked.
On that fateful day on June 13, 2018, Anil left his home around 2 p.m., after he told his family he was going to meet with two friends.
The sister said, “He did not say to his family if he was being threatened or in any danger. We last saw him on a Wednesday, and it was days later that the friends came and said they do not know anything about his whereabouts. They said that he got a phone call and got into a taxi to go to California. But his two phones were left at home so that didn’t make sense. No matter how we question them, they said that he left them and that was it. They said they do not want to get involved.”
Mom Radica said those friends have moved on with their lives and pretend they do not know the family.
“Anil used to call them his brothers. They used to borrow his clothes, watch, shoes—anything new he had. Today, they pass the house straight as if they don’t know us. If they talk to me, I will tell them that all of his clothes are still in his room, nobody wearing them,” the mother wept. “Friends will carry you, but do not bring you back. I leave them in the hands of God.”
His clothes have been packed away in his bedroom and Radica keeps it tidy, hoping he returns to her.
“I pray for God to show me what happened to my son. Somebody somewhere must know. I had a puja for him last year when he would have turned 21 years old,” she cried.
Anyone with information to help solve the case can contact Homicide Region III at 652-0495, Crime Stoppers at 800-TIPS (8477) or send information to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith by texting 482-GARY (4279),
or to the TTPS app.