English Author Terry Pratchett once said “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
It is with this in mind that today, the seven teenagers who lost their lives exactly one year ago on January 12, 2015 are being remembered throughout the country.
On the fateful day, a minivan taking schoolchildren from Fancy ran off the road in an area known as Rock Gutter and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. The bodies of Racquel Ashton, 18, Jamalie Edwards, 14, Jamal Edwards, 12, Glenroy Michael, 12, and Anique Alexander, 11 were recovered from the sea, while Simonique Ballantyne and Chantacia Stay are still unaccounted for. Approximately 14 persons were rescued.
Simonique’s father Hezron Ballantyne said that the year has not been an easy road for him, his wife Simone and their children.
Ballantyne spoke to the SEARCHLIGHT while at the Gorse residence of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, where on Sunday, the nation’s leader held a social activity for the survivors, and the family and friends of those directly touched by the tragedy that shocked the nation.
“My daughter still has not been found and it has not been an easy time for me and my family,” said Ballantyne, who is an inspector in the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF).
“When I reminisce, it really brings tears, but with God’s grace I’m getting stronger,” said Ballantyne who revealed that at times when he passes the area where the bus went over, he looks at the sea and wonders where his daughter is.
The police officer said that the Prime Minister must be commended for all that he has done since tragedy struck after 6 a.m. one year ago.
Stressed Ballantyne, “Since this incident, the Prime Minister has displayed love, appreciation and he’s acted not as a prime minister alone, but as a father, uncle and relative to all of us that has been affected by this tragedy and he continues to do so.
“I was not surprised by the invitation to be part of this activity and I am happy to be here because it adds some sort of comfort, even though I know no matter what anyone would have done for us, it can’t bring back our kids.
“But it shows that you appreciate us and to a certain extent basically that you understand what we are feeling and I am happy that he invited us,” said Ballantyne who was accompanied to the remembrance social by his wife, son, a number of cousins, relatives and friends.
Ballantyne also noted that the affected families would like the world to know that at no time has Gonsalves involved politics in his dealings with them.
“During the entire tragedy, the Prime Minister has never engaged us in any political talk. That must be made clear. He had a responsibility as a leader and he never asked nothing about which party we support or anything like that,” stressed Ballantyne.
He said that the Prime Minister visited the families every day, saving one, leading up to the funerals of the seven students.
Rochelle Ashton lost her daughter Racquel Ashton and on Sunday said that she too would like to thank the Prime Minister for his concern since the tragedy.
“He was always there for us since the tragedy and we thank him so much for the support and what he has done. I know he has always been with us and I am so happy for what he has done for all of us parents throughout the tragedy,” said Ashton.
“I am still grieving and since I lost my daughter, it is a hard situation for me because she was my best friend and we had a close relationship and my tears would never stop.”
The bereaved mother could not hold back her tears.
Sunday’s event involved a short sermon by Sigmond Wiggins of the North Windward District of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church; singing by Voices of Praise; and entertainment by Andy Cruickshank. Food and drinks were provided, while persons were invited to frolic in the Prime Minister’s private fresh water pool. Also present were members of the local Coastguard and the divers from Fancy who helped with the rescue efforts.
Addressing the gathering, Prime Minister Gonsalves asked his guests to enjoy the food and drinks available, while listening to the music provided.
“This is a day when we remember, but the best remembrance is to have the person live in us as we go on with our lives,” said Gonsalves, who thanked the persons who had taken up his invitation. He also used the opportunity to personally speak with the families who were directly touched by the unfortunate incident.
The remembrance activities continue today Tuesday, January 12, in Fancy, where from 11:30 a.m. wreaths will be laid at Rock Gutter. At 12:45 p.m., wreaths will also be laid at the Fancy Cemetery. A memorial service will be held, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Fancy Playing Field. This ends at 5 p.m.