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‘NO DYING TODAY’

Injured security guards recount mayhem as armed robbers pounced on Sunday; plan to return to job

Published:Wednesday | March 22, 2023 | 12:35 AMCorey Robinson/Senior Staff Reporter
Bullet holes in the Beryllium cash-in-transit van, which came under attack from armed robbers at Scotiabank’s 2 Cookson Pen branch in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday.
Bullet holes in the Beryllium cash-in-transit van, which came under attack from armed robbers at Scotiabank’s 2 Cookson Pen branch in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday.

As gunshots rang out inside a Scotiabank parking lot in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday afternoon, Jim James’* 19 years of experience as a member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) took charge. Around him, hell was breaking loose; team member...

As gunshots rang out inside a Scotiabank parking lot in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday afternoon, Jim James’* 19 years of experience as a member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) took charge.

Around him, hell was breaking loose; team member clearly shot at the rear of the van, while the other two were nowhere to be seen.

Stay calm, he thought. Put the vehicle in reverse and try to save the others.

In front of him, however, the man with the assault rifle took a steadier aim.

Backam! Backam!

James was still alive. But now there were bigger troubles – the van seemed to get stuck as it reversed through a garden, and the hoodlum holding the gun before him seemed more motivated.

But so, too, was James to live – even as he felt a stinging sensation in his left leg and a warm stream of blood rushing from a wound.

DEADLY CACOPHONY

As the bullets slammed into the van with a deadly cacophony, James returned fire.

“It was just instinct, and I remembered my JDF training. I just said to myself, ‘Dem not getting my three points (life) right here. They will have to take it somewhere else, but it is not right here and it is not today’,” he told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

The vehicle, he said, somehow unhinged itself with that thought.

“And that’s when I manoeuvred myself and I hear the shot them cool down. It was like they (gunmen) went back into their vehicles. So I didn’t even bother to hesitate, I just drove out with the youth,” he said, referring to colleague Mark Wittam*. “And that is how me and him came to the hospital.”

James, who suffered tissue damage and may have to undergo corrective plastic surgery, said the other two guards were still not in sight when they left the scene.

The guards were part of a four-member Beryllium crew in the process of servicing an ATM at the bank on Sunday when they came under attack from armed robbers.

The fourth team member escaped unhurt.

Yesterday, investigators at the Greater Portmore Police Station could not give any significant update on the probe.

“The investigations are ongoing,” was all a deputy superintendent of police offered to The Gleaner.

SIMILAR $10M HEIST

Still, $23 million reportedly stolen during the heist remains missing even as the cops continue to probe a similar robbery at the nearby Portmore Pines Plaza less than a month earlier. One security guard was killed in that early-morning attack and some $10 million was taken by the bandits.

For security guard Jerome Brown*, a mixture of God’s grace and a rush of adrenaline gave him the strength to scale a perimeter fence after being shot three times in his right hand, twice in his left, once in his hip, and in both legs during the attack on Sunday.

On Tuesday, his girlfriend and big brother called him the ‘Jamaican John’, his body bandaged all over from his injuries.

According to Brown, he was the first target of the armed thugs. The very first bullet fired, he noted, whizzed past his head and struck a wall behind him.

He was first struck in the foot, and when he fell, the gunmen shot him repeatedly. He kept firing back, retreating only after his gun was shot from his hand, he told The Gleaner.

“When the adrenaline kicks in, you just have to do what you have to do because you are thinking about your life,” said the father of four. “When your kids and family flash in front of you, you just have to do what you have to do to save your life. But we have to make these criminals know that we are not afraid. They can always come, but it is how you handle the situation,” he added.

None of his injuries seem life-threatening, but he said doctors continue their observation to determine their next moves.

Wittam*, the youngest of the three guards, was shot in the right leg. He described how he rolled on the ground to escape the pelting gunfire.

He was armed with a handgun with two clips and a shotgun. All were emptied in the shootout, he said, adding that he may need therapy to walk normally again.

“When I got shot, I took cover behind the vehicle and ... one of the youths with the pullover [was] coming around to the back of the vehicle. When I saw that he was coming towards me, I started firing and he turned back. That is how I actually survived,” explained Wittam, thankfully.

“They (gunmen) never expected us to answer them back and give them the fight that they got. I think that caught them off guard,” he theorised.

All three injured guards told The Gleaner that they are prepared to return to work as long as their company deals with them favourably with regard to medical expenses and compensation.

*Names changed.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com