FOUR months after 16-year-old St Anthony’s College pupil Akil Phillips was shot dead in front his grandmother’s Laventille home, no one has been held for his murder.
As the months tick by, his mother, father and grandmother continue to mourn him.
But they also continue to remember Phillips as a bright, hard-working boy who had ambitions that would have taken him out of the gang-torn place in which he grew up.
His community—still scared to live in an area where gang borders remain a part of daily life—also continues to honour Phillips’ memory.
Phillips, a Form Three pupil of Rebecca Trace, Block 22 in Laventille, was found face-down in the yard outside his grandmother’s home about 9.30 p.m. on April 5, after residents heard a series of gunshots.
He was going to her house to have dinner after getting bread and sausages from his parents’ shop nearby.
Phillips, who relatives remembered as a hard worker, had recently bought a Samsung J5 cellphone from money he had earned by helping his grandmother with chores.
He was proud that he had been able to save up enough money to buy the new smartphone.
The device may have also led to his death.
Phillips was shot three times. He died at the Port of Spain General Hospital the same night he was shot.
His brand new phone was taken.
People living in the area recall nothing but hearing gunshots.
Since he was murdered, police have been working on two theories: He was killed for his phone during a robbery or there was a video recording on his device that could have implicated someone involved in crime.
On the way to Block 22 where Phillips lived, a taxi driver told the Express he could not go beyond Our Lady of Laventille RC Church.
“The border thing is real,” he says, referring to control of the area by criminal gangs.
Phillips’ mother, Joezal Vaughans and his father Alexander Phillips were sitting together in the small shop they run near their Rebecca Trace home on Tuesday, not far from where their son was shot by whom police believe was a lone gunman.
His grandmother, Cinty Vaughans, “is still trying to cope” Joezal Vaughans said.
“She is up and about and still going to work but we know his death still haunts her.”
Still with us
His parents are haunted by the memory of losing their son.
But they also laugh when the think of his good nature and playful spirit.
They believe his spirit comes to them sometimes.
Like Tuesday when the Express visited.
“Akil told me you were coming...(He was) playing up with the DVD player,” said Vaughans.
She believes since his death, he often plays tricks on them to let them know he is still around.
She said, “We will never forget him but these days we are trying to take all the negativity with his death off our minds. Ever so often, though, someone will do something in his memory.
“Like ever so often one or two things will pop up on Facebook about no justice for the youth.”
Vaughns is certain people know who murdered her son.
“They know,” she says. “But they are afraid to talk. They are afraid that their names get called, they are afraid that some gunman might target their family. Because if they could murder a little schoolboy like that, who is them?
“I cannot blame people because they are scared.”
The Port of Spain Homicide Bureau says Phillips’ case is still being investigated.
But they worry that after interviewing several suspects they have been unable to charge anyone because of lack of evidence.
No one has come forward, either.
An SEA preparation class was in session on Tuesday, a short walk away from Phillips’ Rebecca Trace home, an air-conditioned activity centre managed part-time by two primary school teachers.
The centre is located near the corner of Laventille and St Barbs roads, attended by 24 girls and boys.
There has been both public and private sector support for this project called “We are the change”. People in the community say the project had its genesis following Phillips’ death.
Candace Phillips, who teaches the class, said she taught the murdered teen in primary school and she and others were behind two peace marches in the community following his death.
She also recalled that in her 19-year career she has attended 23 funerals of past pupils.
Phillips, who is not related to Akil, said she was compelled to do something so she contacted Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds and money was raised to equip the homework centre.
“Out of the 24 children here right now, all of them have been affected directly or indirectly by crime,” she said.
She said the effect on them is real.
“When these children are in school among their peers they are okay but when they get home and the father is not there or the brother is not there, these children have challenges in coping and they would act out,” said Phillips.
The whole purpose of this is to track the development of the children until age 25 “where by this time they would not have been coerced into a gang but are proud members of society,” she added.