…18 years after mother of Antoine Houston’s still searches for answers
With his hands projecting into the air, as if to say, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ 29-year-old Antoine Houston pleaded with the police to take him to the station but instead he was gunned down in a hail of bullets, even as his body was convulsing on the ground one of the executioners stood over him and delivered the final bullet in his head at point blank range in full view of the public.
A victim of extra-judicial killing, Houston, along with two of his friends – John Bruce and Steve Grant, was shot 11 times by the Target Special Squad at the junction of Mandela Avenue and the Industrial Estate Road on the morning of July 26, 2001.
“I was praying when I heard the gunshots, and didn’t even know it was my son being killed at the time,” Claudette Schultz said as she painfully recollected that fateful day and the events that followed. At around 5:30hrs on July 26, 2001, she had asked him to purchase fish, and without any hesitation, Houston left his mom’s James Street, Albouystown residence with a promise to return shortly. His ‘friend’ had offered him a ‘drop’ to the Meadow Bank wharf to buy fish but little did he know that he was going to be killed.
According to reports from the police, Houston, Grant and Bruce were killed during a confrontation with the Anti-Crime Task Force aka the Target Special Squad, after they opened fire on the lawmen. But Houston’s mother, on Saturday, told Guyana Chronicle that her son was murdered by the Target Special Squad because of his political association with the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R), and labelled a criminal, wanted for murder, though his slate was clean – a position she has held for 18-years.
“He was respectful, very disciplined,” Schultz said while adding that Houston was a member of the Kitty Vision Football Team. “He was well loved, not spoiled, loved,” Schultz said as tears settled in her eyes.
Houston was Guyanese by birth but because his father Lawrence Houston was a Foreign Service Officer, he spent most of life outside of Guyana, mainly in Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America (USA). Due to his father’s status, he had a diplomatic passport. It was only until 2000 that he returned to Guyana to live with his mother. “He was a mama’s boy,” she fondly remembered.
Jogging her memory to the day of the shooting, Schultz said that when her son did not return by 9:00hrs that Thursday, she thought to herself that it was unlike him but nonetheless awaited his return.
“Like about 12’o clock, one of his friends came and said he just heard the police killed Antoine and two other persons on Mandela Avenue,” Schultz recalled. At the mortuary, her worse fear was confirmed: her son, 29-year-old Antoine Houston, was killed.
“His body had 11 bullet wounds, 11, six across his upraised arms, three across his stomach, one in his back and one in his right temple which existed through the left temple,” Schultz’s sister interjected.
Singling out now retired Police Superintendent Steve Merai, a member of the Target Special Squad at the time, Schultz told Guyana Chronicle that the police under the stewardship of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) killed her son, an innocent man, and then staged the scene. The police, at the time, alleged that Houston and the two other men had guns in their possession but Schultz vehemently refuted this allegation. “They said it was a shootout; they said they found guns in a bag; but only one set of gunshots were heard, and from our home at Albouystown where we lived, I heard clearly, and I am army trained, so I would know a shootout when I hear one,” the grieving mother said.
At the morgue, Schultz said her son was not wearing the shirt he left home with. “My son left home with a yellow and white shirt, and when I saw him lying there, he didn’t have on that shirt. He had on an old army jersey, like a thick United States Army jersey,” she recalled while stating that the army jersey was not his.
In May 2002, during a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of the trio, Merai, according to a Stabroek News report, told the court that the confrontation began after the four persons in the car were observed to be acting suspiciously while approaching Mandela Avenue.
Based on Merai’s account of the events, while the driver of the car complied with the police’s instructions to stop, the three other men jumped out of the car, and one of them opened fire. Merai told the court he and his colleagues shot back at the “armed” men as a form of self- defence.
But Schultz told Guyana Chronicle that eye witnesses and residents of the community told a different story. “One of my cousins, who was walking out her baby that morning, said she overheard Antoine saying ‘my mother sent me out, take me to the station’,” Schultz said.
Another witness reportedly told Houston’s family that after he was shot several times about his body, a member of the squad placed a gun to Houston’s temple and shot him.
“I took the statements from all those who were there. They took the young men out of the car, it was a set up, they sent him (the driver) away, he was absent in all of this, and they killed the three others including my nephew. My nephew had his hands up in the air, because his arm and chest were riddled with bullets- 11 bullets in total,” his aunt told this newspaper.
“When he was lying on the ground and his body was convulsing, a police put the gun to his temple and shot him, close because they went and cut off the burn mark after at the mortuary.” She said on the basis of that, when his mother went to identify him, there was the burn mark where the bullet entered his right temple. By the time we were allowed to have the body, the burn mark was cut out in a round circle which left a red circle where the bullet entered.
According to her, the police then sought to criminalise him by linking Houston to a murder. “They claimed that he was wanted for murder committed in 1992 but how could he have murdered someone in Guyana in 1992 when he was not even here,” the woman pointed out. “So, to criminalise him, they finger printed a dead man, to put him at a place of some crime,” she added.
In their quest for justice, the family sought the assistance of another Coroner and a photographer to photograph the scene and his remains but the photos mysteriously disappeared. In addition to the legal battle in which they fought passionately, the family had written the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council and the Canadian Government after Merai had migrated to Canada. He was subsequently forced to return to Guyana.
Though years have elapsed, Schultz and her sister said it is not too late for justice to be served, pointing out that Merai and the members of his “death squad,’ many of whom are still alive, should now be held accountable.