I could tell he was a man on a mission from the moment he walked in. On June 24 Norrence Laurent came to our offices for the purposes of picking up a particular STAR newspaper where we’d published a news story about him and his son being shot while attempting to get inside their Faux a Chaud home. I got into a conversation with him that day, and though at first he didn’t want to expound on the situation he would’ve preferred not to have to deal with in the first place, he opened up to me.
Of course I couldn’t say his name at the time, he was my Roger Leon*. He shared his views on the Witness Protection Program in St Lucia, and the difficulties he was facing getting assistance. The Norrence Laurent I met for the first time that day was a man who felt as though life, the system, and even the people he thought he knew were against him.
He showed me his scars, and told me his story. He talked about his brush with death, even more traumatic as his 12-year-old son had been right by his side dodging bullets that day. He’d been making his way home on June 13 when he’d spotted gunmen near his house.
“They had their guns so I was looking to enter the house not thinking they were coming to shoot me,” he’d related. “My son opened the door and I was right behind him. When I opened the door they started firing shots at me. If I had run into my bedroom, they would have come in after me. If I ran back out they would have all just opened fire on me. I kept struggling to close my door, that’s why I’m not a dead man.”
Norrence was shot in both shoulders and a bullet grazed his son’s head. After the incident a suspect was questioned, then released after 72 hours, though Norrence said he’d gone to the police and identified the shooter.
“Let’s talk about the aftermath and what’s happening now,” I said to him. “Where have you gone to seek assistance?”
“Well I went… just now eh,” he paused. “I went to Mr Lacorbinere for assistance… Isn’t this going to ‘cause problems? If I speak badly about the whole system?”
I promised not to include his views on seeking protection from the state as he was afraid doing so would negatively impact his chances of getting out of St Lucia and kept to my word. But that did not change the fact that he felt trapped in a land where he no longer felt safe.
“I’m not comfortable here anymore,” he told me. “I want to leave and go somewhere else, but to do that it’s a competition. When you go to the necessary authorities they tell you all kinds of things not to assist you. They ask if it’s witness protection, and whether it’s for the Crown. If it’s for the Crown you might stand a better chance. If not and it’s just people who want to kill you, if you die you die, if you don’t die, you don’t die. That’s how the system sees it.”
Norrence said he’d gone to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution where he was told he needed to have an appointment. He was assured a call back, which he never received.
“I went to one of the police officers who told me he had to get his inspector to read the statement, who then had to get the DPP to go through it in order to issue a warrant of re-arrest for the guys who did this to me. They made an arrest but let him go when his 72 hours were up. They didn’t charge him. The officer said he had to get information from the DPP to determine whether to charge him or not.”
According to Norrence, eleven days after his shooting nothing had been done. With little choice in the matter, he found himself having to go back to the same neighbourhood where his assailants lived with the awareness that his life, and that of his family was on the line.
Norrence’s situation had escalated from the moment he was threatened at a public event over a fence he’d erected near his house. On his last visit to the STAR he said he had little faith in the justice system in St Lucia. He felt imprisoned in his home with his attackers literally next door and expressed just that, adding that he hadn’t been able to sleep since the incident.
“You never know what they have on their mind, or what’s coming next,” he told me. “I don’t know why those in authority in this country allow people to be in gangs. Why don’t they get something constructive to do? It’s very rough. I’ve been living in this area my entire life.”
Laurent, a father of six, had turned to the State in his effort to seek protection for himself and his family. He’d reached out to several agencies including Social Services, where he says he was offered counseling for his son, but not much else.
“The Minister of National Security told me the places government would send me to for security, no one could know where I was. But I looked at it like I’m not a fugitive. I want to have my freedom so I can work, get something going and look for something to do… I don’t want to have to depend on anyone in a lonely place. He told me I could take it into consideration and come back to him.”
Norrence was adverse to being sent out to the “middle of nowhere” as he called it, and hoped for a better option, a more liveable way out. The 37-year-old was fatally shot on August 1, 2013 in Hospital Road, Castries. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the body, and made the 2013 list of homicides, only to be remembered as unlucky number 21.