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Thieves: We poor too
The serenity of the lush green and quaint community of Tortuga was disturbed by the continued onslaught by criminals yesterday, as Roman Catholic priest Fr Jose Maria Thekkekutte was left bound by bandits who robbed the church’s presbytery hours after a harvest on Sunday.
Despite the bandits threatening to sever his legs with their cutlasses during a 90-minute ordeal, the India-born clergyman was not too concerned about his own life. Rather, he feared the criminals could return to the village to distress other families.
“By God’s grace, I was not afraid. I did not feel nervous at all because nothing happens without God’s knowledge. I told them that I rathered them kill me than to do all of this tying me up on the bed, but the man guarding me said that they would not kill me, they would chop off my legs.
“I asked him, ‘Why can’t you work? Why do you have to rob? You are able-bodied fellas.’ But they didn’t answer,” Thekkekutte told the T&T Guardian.
Thekkekutte, the priest at the Our Lady of Montserrat RC Church, said the bandits left with an unknown sum of local and US dollars, the parish’s Hyundai Tucson SUV and several bottles of alcoholic drinks.
They even ate a few blocks of chocolate before leaving.
Thekkekutte said he was asleep around 2.30 am when three masked men forced open the door downstairs the presbytery, which is a building away from the church. He said he believes the bandits passed the presbytery on Sunday evening and saw the church was having its harvest fundraiser. It was the proceeds from the event they asked for when they entered his room. However, the money had already been taken away by committee members.
Recalling the incident, he said: “I heard the door being opened harder because they were forcing it open. Then I looked up and saw two men in masks and cutlasses walking into my room. I sensed this was something strange and then I understood something was wrong.
“They flashed a light in my face so I lifted up my head a little from the pillow and then laid there. They again flashed the light in my eyes and made a sign that I should not make any noise.”
One of the bandits asked where the money they collected from the harvest was. But Thekkekutte told them it was gone already. Convinced he was lying, one of the bandits kept an eye on Thekkekutte while the other pulled out draws and emptied cabinets. They eventually found a drawer containing US money which the priest had purchased for his recent trip to India and local currency estimated between $3,000-$4,000. But the bandits wanted more money and went to a bedside drawer where there was $1,000 that was supposed to help a needy person.
“I said don’t take that, this was meant for somebody. I said take the other one, but this one is not for me, this is for the poor. They said to me that they were poor too,” Thekkekutte explained.
As they continued ransacking the rooms, Thekkekutte was made to lie on the bed. The only comfort he had was that they eventually gave him water to take his medication. However, they also chastised him for allowing his flock to run a bar at the presbytery during Sunday’s fundraiser and also for allowing female members to wine during the event.
The men later took the priest to the lower story of the building where a third bandit entered and kept guard while the others ransacked more rooms. They then broke into the garage where they stole the alcohol that was left from the harvest. Before leaving, they disconnected his telephone (landline) and used a clothesline and pieces of the bedsheet to tie his hands and feet. They then took the keys to the SUV and the remote for the electric gate and left.
It took several minutes for Thekkekutte, using his teeth, to wriggle out of his restraints and find his mobile phone to call a church member for help. Gran Couva police officers visited the building and started a search for the bandits. Neither the bandits nor the stolen items were recovered up to yesterday.
The Tortuga community is blessed with the beauty of old architecture, which can be seen in some of the houses, church and the old Postal Agency building along Mayo Road. Almost every yard has a fruit tree, tractors are parked on the roadside and the hills are laden with vegetables. It is why resident Shannon Brown described it as one of the few communities that remain unchanged. But with yesterday’s robbery, Brown told the T&T Guardian villagers fear it could result in more robberies as they are a peaceful and quiet people who are unaccustomed to violence.
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