Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN)Tires were burning in nearby streets. Tear gas was in the air. Crowds were gathering. So Pricil Journal told her son Roberto to hide the wheelbarrow they used as a cookie stall outside the general hospital.
But Pricil knows that her son is dead. And she’s convinced that a policeman did it.
“When he was done killing my son…That cop then swapped guns with another nearby cop – and he then went to hide inside the hospital,” she said in an interview with CNN.
She alleged that the riot policeman who killed her son covered his face and pulled down a visor on his helmet.
She said that there were numerous witnesses to the alleged killing by a policeman on the scene. She said that she’s not reported the crime, because she fears retribution from the very same person who killed her son.
But her family is getting anonymous death threats and demands that she stop talking about her son’s killing.
Police chief Michel-Ange Gedeon told CNN that there had been no report of the alleged crime.
“Whenever we receive a case we will investigate,” he told CNN.
That may come as a surprise to Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, who this week singled out Roberto’s tragic end for special mention in a televised address to the nation.
“As a father who can understand the pain of a parent, I send a special message to the mother of a young boy, Roberto Badjo Thelusma who died in front of the State Hospital while he was helping his mother with her business.
“I remember how 40 years ago I used to help my mother with her meat business at the ‘Kwabosal’ market place. Today I’m the Prime Minister, who knows what Roberto Badjo Thelusma could have become in this country.”
Corruption and inflation send Haiti spiraling into crisis
He promised to address allegations of corruption revealed in a report in January in an effort to draw some of the energy out of the opposition campaign to unseat him and President Jovenel Moise.
But his mention of Roberto was seen as nothing more than lip service in the Miron slum, where Roberto and his mother shared one room. She and her family now believe whoever killed her son may seek them out for revenge if they keep talking.
“Ever since his death they’ve been threatening us. They said that if we don’t shut up about this case we will get it, ‘We know where you work’. That’s what they said.”
“They’ve been threatening us by phone. They said that, ‘We know you work at the hospital so if you don’t shut up about this case we will find you’. That’s what they said,” Pricil insisted.
A surviving son, Jovency Journal, 24, showed CNN text messages in Creole.
“I see you have been active on the Roberto case. Be careful not to follow him,” said one.
Another threatened: “We’ll do to you worse than what happened to Roberto – they might not even be able to find your body”.
Who does she think these messages come from?
“The people that are making those threats, I’m guessing, are the ones that killed my son. They may feel like we’re talking about this too much,” says Pricil.
Her two other sons, Sins Dmitri and Jovency agree.
“But we’ll never give up,” says Dmitri.
An earthquake in 2010 and successive hurricanes have destroyed much of Haiti’s infrastructure that hadn’t already collapsed under corruption and government mismanagement.
Rage at life stripped of any apparent hope that things will get better is a clear motivation for the riots that gripped the country that began two days before Roberto was killed on February 9.
Promises from the Prime Minister might serve to dilute some of that immediate anger. But the country is teetering on the brink of more chaos, with further protests being threatened by opposition leaders.
But the rule of law in the form of government has already largely slipped away in the slums, which have become no-go areas for police.
Roberto’s death has reinforced a widespread view among the poor that the state is their enemy.
A sad irony — given that his ambition had always been to be a policeman.