Senior cop helps 11-year-old girl ace GSAT one week after her mother was killed
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Exactly one week before she was scheduled to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), 11-year-old Cameisha Collins received a crushing blow. She was the first person to see the lifeless body of her mother, who was fatally shot at her house during a police operation in Cassava Piece, St Andrew.
On that fateful Friday morning in March 2012, 45-year-old office attendant Dianne Gordon was cut down during a predawn operation during what the police claimed was a shoot-out with gunmen.
As she mourned the death of her mother, the hours crept towards the day of decision when Cameisha was scheduled to face a major academic test in her young life.
But the GSAT was a distant thought and Cameisha was inconsolable. She was being put through a greater test, moving on without her mother.
Support was to come from an unlikely source, Novelette Grant, the assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in charge of Area Five, in which the sometimes-volatile inner-city community is located. ACP Grant took a special interest in Cameisha and the despairing family.
"I think I want to take a long-term interest in this child," said Grant as Gordon's friends and neighbours demanded justice and charged that the woman had been murdered by the cops.
Gordon had lived with her common-law husband, Hugh Collins, and her two daughters - Cameisha and 20-year-old Christina Collins.
She was returning from a wake in the community when she was shot under controversial circumstances.
At the time, the residents expressed concern for the girls, especially for young Cameisha. Many residents were convinced that the 11-year-old would not be able to cope.
As Grant watched the wretched state of Cameisha, she, along with representatives of the Ministry of Education, also wondered whether the child was in a the frame of mind to sit the examination.
However, the 11-year-old displayed remarkable resolve, even as she broke down in tears while sitting the exams.
"She wiped her eyes, composed herself to emerge with an above-80 (per cent) average, and is headed towards her dream, St Andrew High School (For Girls)," an admiring Grant told The Sunday Gleaner.
Grant described Cameisha's experience of seeing her mother's lifeless body after the tragedy as "a shocker for an 11-year-old".
"The GSAT was scheduled for the following week and all the community members, in addition to being upset at the passing of the mother in that manner, were also troubled by the likelihood that the little girl would not be able to sit the exams," said Grant, clearly moved by her four-month-long experience with the gritty girl.
The heart of Grant, the solid, no-nonsense senior policewoman, melted and she moved to assist the family. It was then that Grant reached out to the child with hands and heart.
"I contacted the Ministry of Education to say that we needed help for these two girls," Grant said.
She then teamed with the ministry to help Cameisha, who was immediately taken to the Bustamante Hospital for Children to see a child psychiatrist.
The other daughter, Christina, was also referred to a therapist.
"That same Friday, they were placed in the care of the therapist and (it was) then decided that it had to be Cameisha's decision to sit (or not to sit) the examination.
"We became aware of the level of resilience that this child possessed, so we were not going to attempt to make any decision for her," said Grant.
The police officer recounted how experts from the education ministry consulted with Cameisha.
"I also encouraged the family not to try to influence her to make a decision, one way or the other," said Grant.
"When Cameisha said she wanted to do the exams, we were very satisfied with that response."
The Ministry of Education then put a support system in place for Cameisha, and representatives were on hand to monitor the situation.
Grant said Education Minister Ronald Thwaites turned up at the Dunrobin Preparatory School in a show of support for the courageous girl.
However, at one point, sitting the exams without her mother seemed too much for Cameisha to bear.
"The little girl broke down in the exams on the first day. They took her out, she composed herself, got it together, and completed both days," said Grant.
"I consider that to be courageous in the extreme, having to cope with a tragedy that has rocked adults in some ways that overwhelmed them beyond repair. For a child in that condition to show that resilience and that composure is beyond me," added Grant.
ADMIRED FOR STRENGTH
The policewoman expressed unbridled admiration for Cameisha and Christina, their father and aunt, 42-year-old Elaine Wilson, who she said personified remarkable dignity during their ordeal and beyond.
"I just can't describe the level of the strength of character that this little girl has. The whole situation was one that would knock an adult flat on their pins. But she got up and she performed, when many of us thought that it was impossible."
Wilson, the sister of Cameisha's mother, said the child is now coping much better and focused on new horizons at the school of her dream.
"I am doing fine," said Cameisha shyly as she prepared for summer classes at St Andrew High School For Girls last Thursday.
Remarkably, Cameisha has never seen Grant, and the child told The Sunday Gleaner that she is looking forward to meeting her benefactor.
However, Grant knows Cameisha as she had seen her at Gordon's funeral.
"Miss Grant always visited when Cameisha was at school, but Christina knows her," said Wilson, who now acts as guardian and caregiver for the two girls.
"The girls and I were always very close from they were young, because they are my nieces. Dianne was my sister and my best friend."
The probe into the fatal shooting of Gordon is continuing, but little Cameisha, the girl with the heart of a lion, is moving on with her life, albeit without the bosom of her mother to comfort her.