For seven days, citizens held their breaths, hanging on to hope and praying that Andrea Bharatt would be found alive.
That hope dissolved in tears yesterday afternoon when her body was found down a precipice along a road in the forested Heights of Aripo, Arima.
The decomposing body of 22-year-old Andrea was identified by the clothing she was wearing on her last day at work on Friday by her father, Randolph Bharatt. The kidnapping and murder came two months to the day after 18-year-old Ashanti Riley was found dead in a ravine off Upper La Canoa Road, Santa Cruz.
“When I saw her body…I was stunned for two minutes…and then I just cried. I could not help myself,” a crime scene investigator told the Express on the scene.
The body was found by a 22-year-old scrap iron dealer driving through the area around 12.20 p.m.
He told police he was in his Hyundai Tucson when he had cause to stop to search for scrap. However, while looking down, he observed what he thought was a body and immediately notified the police.
A party of officers from the Eastern Division, co-ordinated by Snr Supt Aguilal, under the supervision of Supt Khan, ASP Joseph, Insp Callender, Sgt Harper, Sgt Khan, Sgt Narine, Cpl Ramnarine, and others responded.
The body was found some 30 feet (nine metres) from the roadway.
The head was facing down. The body was clad in underwear and a multicoloured top.
Due to the state of decomposition, police believe Andrea may have been killed shortly after she was abducted last Friday, and could not say definitively what would have been the cause of death. A post-mortem has been ordered.
It is hoped this would be completed today at the Forensic Science Centre in Federation Park.
‘She is my baby’
Bharatt’s father, Randolph Bharatt, and her aunt Wendy Williams were escorted to the scene by police officers around 3.10 p.m.
Minutes before, the Express had contacted Williams, who was inconsolable and made an emotional appeal for her niece to be returned safely to her family.
A relative said, “Wendy cannot speak right now. She is devastated. We got a call from someone a few minutes ago and she wants to go to the scene. We are taking her there now.”
Williams said she had been caring for Andrea since her mother’s death eight years ago.
“She is not my niece. She is my child. I want my child to come home. I can’t go another night without her. She is my baby,” she wailed.
After viewing the body, dad Bharatt was escorted away from the scene by a team of officers.
He opted not to speak to the media.
Other relatives were seen crying and being consoled by police officers.
“How could they do that to her? What kind of monsters would do that?” one woman was heard asking investigators.
Fire officers were called in to assist the police in removing the body.
Gps led police away from Aripo
Police officers in Aripo told the Express they were surprised to find Andrea’s body in the area.
They said GPS (Global Positioning System) analysis, as it relates to the journey of one of the suspects, was done and it identified several stops by the individual—while Andrea was in his company.
“A stop was made at Windy Hill in Arouca for approximately 70 minutes. Also, in addition, another stop was made in the Valencia district for a similar period and then to a location at Sangre Grande.
“Now, at the time of the arrival in Sangre Grande, there is some evidence that suggested to us that the hostage was not in the vehicle. Therefore, we conducted searches in Windy Hill and La Resource Road. Nothing was found, so we kept our searches in all of the aforementioned areas,” an officer said.
It was the nightmare ending everyone had prayed would not happen.
Since her abduction last Friday, the Anti-Kidnapping Unit and Special Operations Response Team (SORT) were involved in the seven-day search for Andrea.
A joint police and soldier team had been searching the forests in North-East Trinidad with cadaver dogs.
Hunters, hikers and concerned citizens joined the search three days ago.
The search continued into yesterday, with hunters, police and soldiers searching forested areas in Sangre Grande, Valencia and Toco.
However, the discovery of the body was made by a scrap iron dealer.
Suspects still in custody
Three people remain in police custody for Andrea’s kidnapping and killing.
Two suspects were released from custody without charges on Wednesday.
This according to defence attorney Fareed Ali, who said a woman was among the three still in custody.
In a statement, Ali said two men, ages 20 and 26, who were arrested on Sunday by a team of SORT officers and detained at the Arima Police Station, were released from police custody on Wednesday.
The two are from the Arima district. One is unemployed and the other a PH taxi-driver, said Ali.
He said police, in examining the phone records of one of the male suspects, located a woman who was in possession of an item that allegedly belonged to Andrea.
The woman was arrested on Sunday and remains in custody.
The questioning of the woman led to the arrest of a man, said Ali.
Of the six persons held, one died on Monday, but the death of this suspect, Andrew Morris, only became known in a police media release on Wednesday evening.
Another is in hospital being treated for injuries while allegedly attempting to escape the police.
Ali said he is also representing the woman.
About the case
Andrea Bharatt, a University of the West Indies graduate, was a clerk at the Arima Magistrates’ Court.
Last Friday, she got into a taxi on King Street, Arima, with a co-worker.
The taxi, a Nissan Versa, carried false “H” plates.
Andrea and her friend were in the back seat. There was a man in the front passenger seat.
The friend was dropped off shortly after at Cleaver Heights, Arima.
Andrea never made it to her home at 110 Arima Old Road, Arima, where she lived with her father.
He called his daughter’s phone, but a man answered saying she was not available.
The father pleaded to hear his child’s voice, but the man responded, “This is about money. If you don’t pay the ransom, I will cut off your daughter’s ears and send it to you.”
Rennie Gopeesingh, a hunter involved in the search, said he was thankful to all the hunters who came forward to assist in the search.
Gopeesingh, of Hard Grounds Get Soft Facebook group, said he intends to form a group to assist families whose relatives are reported missing.