11-year-old found dead was 'intelligent way beyond his age'

11-year-old found dead was 'intelligent way beyond his age'

Mark Leslie had government scholarship in sight

Staff reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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Before Mark Leslie's body was discovered in his Temple Hall, St Andrew community two Friday's ago, he was well on his way to acing the first phase of his Primary Exit Profile exam scheduled for this month.

“He was a hard worker and he wanted a government scholarship so bad that he was working very hard towards it,” the 11-year-old boy's grade-six teacher at Mannings Hill Primary School told the Jamaica Observer at a candlelight vigil held in memory of the boy at the school last Thursday.

“They were all prepared for their ability test when he went missing,” said the teacher, who opted not to be named. “His classmates kept praying that he would return home.”

The teacher was tending to a group of Mark's classmates whose sad faces were aglow in candlelight when she stated that he “was intelligent way beyond his age” and was well on his way to one of Kingston's top high schools.

“He understood all levels of sarcasm in the classroom and loved reading comics. After class he would take out his Archie books and he would do his drawings,” said the teacher.

“He was of great help to the other students in the class. He would come to school early and the students who didn't know the answers to the homework, he would help them throughout the day. His classmates are so torn. I just allow them to express themselves and grieve so we can move on,” she said.

“I tell them that they can honour Mark's legacy by continuing what he started, which was hard work and determination, and they can honour him by going into the examination and do what Mark would have done, which is nothing short of his best,” the teacher added.

Principal Audra Thomas-Golding, told the Sunday Observer that Mark's death was a great loss to the school, echoing his teacher's comments about the boy's academic ability.

“This is the first in the history of the institution that we have lost a promising student in the manner in which he left us. We were overshadowed with deep sadness when we heard of the death of Mark Leslie because when we think that we had a student who would have sat the PEP exam and would have passed for one of the top high schools in Kingston; it makes us really sad,” said Thomas-Golding.

Mark's peers and classmates remembered him as friendly, playful, kind, and very intelligent sentiments shared on farewell notes scribbled onto cut-out heart-shapes surrounding a photo of Mark posted on a bulletin board in the school yard.

“I am sad that you are gone, but are still with me. I love how you were kind to me. Nyeika” read one of the notes.

“Mark was a good friend to all of us. He was kind and generous. He was also funny. He was one of the best persons in the class,” read another.

Another note described Mark as loving, smart, and a best friend to everyone. “You were my friend and acted like a brother to me,” the note read.

“He was the best friend of everyone. Every time when we were sad he used to cheer us up with a lot of jokes. Mark was a good friend. He was king and was like a brother to us. He always makes me laugh and smile. He was smart, loving and intelligent,” it continued.

Member of Parliament for the St Andrew West Rural constituency Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn was in attendance at the vigil and lamented the trend of violence against children in the area.

“It is very heavy on my heart because there is so much happening in West Rural St Andrew, especially in the Stony Hill area. Again, yesterday, we know that another life was taken. It is such a sad time because I find that as a society we are not friendly anymore; we are lashing out at each other. What I am finding is that we are so angry.

“I think empathy and love are missing because anybody who did this could not have had much love; you couldn't have much love to hurt a little boy. I think we are getting worse and worse in Jamaica; we're just hateful and I want us to get back to a place where we have love in our hearts and compassion for each; where we look out for each other,” said Cuthbert-Flynn.

“And to the little ones, I say to you that if anything is going on at home, find someone to talk to; somebody you can trust. So often we hear of missing children and things happen and there is no closure. And I hope in this case, as I impress upon the police officers, that we need to find out what happened so that we can have closure,” she added.

Homicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents aged 10-19 years in Latin America and Caribbean according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 2018 overview on the state of children in the region.

Tracking this in the island, UNICEF reports that Jamaica is among the top countries in the world with the highest mortality rates, with adolescents 10-19 years old accounting for 14 of every 100,000 murders.

“Jamaica ranks fourth in the world for homicide rates, creating an environment for children that is saturated with high levels of violence,” reads a 2019 UNICEF report on Jamaica.

According to statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), there were 55 child murders in 2017, which represented an increase of 34 per cent above 2016. The numbers show that boys are especially at risk of homicide, accounting for 65 per cent of victims. It further notes a “troubling” increase in the number of girls murdered, which rose from eight in 2016 to 20 in 2017.

The police statistics further show that most child murders were committed in Kingston and St Andrew, which recorded 15 in 2017, followed by St James with 13. Between January and November 2018, a total of 44 children (30 boys and 14 girls) were murdered, primarily in Kingston and St Andrew.

According to the Jamaica Crime Observatory's 2016 and 2017 Report on Children and Violence, child murders occurred most frequently on the streets and in homes.

On Friday, January 29, Mark Leslie did not turn up for school and was reported missing later that evening when he did not arrive home. Two days later, his body was discovered in a riverbed near to his home.

A recent report from the JCF revealed that Mark's death has not yet been ruled a murder, since pathologists report his blunt head injuries as being consistent with a fall.

Investigations are still ongoing.

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