Association of Funeral Professionals of Trinidad and Tobago president Keith Belgrove is advising the parents of the four Peterkin murder victims to explore their legal options over the state their bodies were allowed to deteriorate to before autopsies were conducted.
His call came yesterday after the parents viewed their bodies at the Forensic Science Centre in St James on Tuesday and found the bodies of three of the four siblings to be swollen and discoloured.
“There is a legal redress the family should be considering...of course it starts with the state and the police,” he said.
On September 22, at approximately 12.30, gunmen opened fire on the house at La Retreat Extension, Heights of Guanapo, where Faith Peterkin, 10; Arianna Peterkin, 14; Shane Peterkin, 17; and Tiffany Peterkin, 19; were asleep. Five of their relatives were also injured in the attack.
However, the siblings’ father, Shawn Peterkin, complained about the state of their bodies after viewing and identifying them on Tuesday.
The funeral for the siblings is carded for today in Arima.
Belgrove yesterday told Guardian Media that this was not the first time something like this has happened, adding the association has been trying to get an audience with the T&T Police Service to form a committee to deal with the collection of bodies from crime scenes.
“It is poorly organised and has caused extreme problems,” she said.
He said while he was not satisfied with the explanation given by the funeral home which handled the bodies, he believes the police were at fault.
“The new commissioner, who we have written to four times— and the fifth one today—but no response, no actions, nothing, but the police call on funeral homes and give them this contracts, they are not really contracts but give them this permission to pick up these deceased persons without any due diligence,” he said.
Belgrove, who joined his father’s business in 1974, said intervention from the association will ensure that the process is done properly and this includes the dress code of undertakers.
“We are in the business, we are the association, we know who are the people who will have the facilities, we are simply saying, madam Police Commissioner, let us deal with this situation...we will handle who should be authorised, we will ensure that people can conform to the CSI standards,” he said.
Belgrove added that the police’s practice of keeping bodies in hot vehicles waiting for an autopsy for long periods was poor practice, but in this case, he believes it was clearly a refrigeration issue, as the victims were young without any health issues.
“There are many other funeral homes doing the same...just understand the distress the family has been in, four children murdered in this brutal murder and now you can’t even say goodbye in a meaningful way,” he said.
He said there’s a simple solution to fix the problem but due to a lack of proper organisation, the family was put in even more distress.
Belgrove said the funeral home in question is part of the association.
Contacted on the issue, head of the Homicide Bureau, Senior Superintendent Rishi Singh, said they had paid attention to comments on social media about the state of the bodies and had gotten some preliminary information. Singh added that he had appointed an investigator to look into the circumstances and will address the issue next week.
Meanwhile, one funeral director who did not want to be identified, explained the process of taking bodies from a crime scene to the funeral home.
She said once the District Medical Officer (DMO) suspects foul play, they call the funeral home on duty in the area to pick up the body. This schedule, she explained, changes every two weeks.
The director said once the undertakers collect the body, they drive straight to the funeral home, with no stops. The police will then visit the funeral home and escort the undertakers to the Forensic Science Centre, where the bodies are swabbed for COVID-19.
If the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) determines that the individual is COVID-positive, no autopsies are done on the body. However, it the body is cleared of COVID, the police escorts the body back to Forensics for the autopsy.
The family is contacted before the autopsy and given the results after it is completed. Once this is done, the body is taken back to the funeral home and preparations for the service begin.