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Thursday 2 October 2014

Irish woman hit with hammer as worker killed in orphanage

Carer Gena fears one of brutal gang might have been former resident

Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00

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AN Irish woman working in a Haitian orphanage was viciously attacked and one of her staff bludgeoned to death outside her bedroom.

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Gena Heraty, who is originally from Co Mayo, was struck a number of times with a hammer before two men used the same weapon to kill Haitian Edward Major in the frenzied attack over the weekend.

Mr Major was killed as he tried to intervene in the robbery at the home for children with special needs – which is part of a larger orphanage for abandoned children in Kenscoff, near Port-au-Prince.

Ms Heraty, who had already been punched and hit a number of times with the hammer, was in a nearby bedroom protecting seven special needs children as the night watchman was brutally murdered.

"We didn't know how they had killed him, we heard so much shouting and noise and banging, but we didn't hear a gunshot," Ms Heraty told the Irish Independent.

"So we realised that they had killed him with the hammer. They must have knocked him on the ground and they continued to beat him, I don't know.

"The last place you would expect a violent death to happen in Haiti would be in a house with special needs people," she said. "It is really so sad. What a waste of life."

Gena Heraty, from Co Mayo, caring for children at the orphanage. MARK CONDREN
Gena Heraty with some of the children and young adults under her care at Kay Christine in Kenscoff, Haiti.

In a cruel twist, Ms Heraty believes that at least one member of the five-man gang was a previous resident of the Kay Christine orphanage, currently home to 400 children.

Ms Heraty is director of the special needs programme, and in her unit – where she sleeps – there are 29 people with severe mental and physical disabilities.

The gang gained entry by pretending to have a delivery for her – and then held a gun to a staff member's head.

"Straight away I knew these were people coming looking for money, looking for me because I'd be the person perceived as having money," she said.

"They were quite aggressive – one had a hammer, one had a gun and another guy was running up and down the stairs."

They started striking her, shouting for money, before hitting Ms Heraty a number of times with the hammer across her back and side.

Ms Heraty, who suffered relatively minor injuries, said she doesn't know how they missed her head, and is thankful to be alive.

She had €400, which she had not exchanged after a recent trip to Westport – but the men began to ransack her room looking for more. They attempted to tie her to a chair and viciously punched a woman with special needs in the face when she tried to intervene. Mr Major, an unarmed watchman, arrived at the scene while Ms Heraty ushered upset children into another bedroom.

"I thought (the men) would get scared and would run out," she said. (But) we heard this unmerciful shouting and fighting, before eventually there was silence outside.

The seven children in the room were screaming, and when one of Ms Heraty's assistants opened the door to look out, she started to scream also as Mr Major, a local man in his 60s, was lying dead on the floor.

The gang fled, taking the euro and some electronics, most of which were later recovered in the grounds of the orphanage.

Ms Heraty had known "Major" since she first moved to work with aid agency Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs in 1993.

"He had a very noble death. He lost his life to protect us... He didn't have to do that, he could have waited for other people."

The children were further traumatised when investigating police insisted that Ms Heraty give her statement while next to Mr Major's uncovered body.

Now the organisation will consider armed security – something they have always wanted to avoid with 400 children on site, and because they are already struggling to meet their funding targets.

"We have to get the message out there that this is wrong," Ms Heraty said.

"I can be poor and hungry – it doesn't mean I can kill people. It isn't a justification."

* To see more of Gena speaking about her ordeal, visit independent.ie. l To donate to the orphanage, send donations to the Our Little Brothers and Sisters account at Bank of Ireland, Dublin Airport. The account number is 42863621 and the charity number is CHY11953.

Irish Independent

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