‘I kept thinking I was going to die’
Survivor of machete attack from mentally ill man pleads for gov’t action
Shion Allen was just about rounding a kerb leading to the Kingston waterfront on New Year’s Eve in 2021 when she saw a man walk up to the sidewalk and take off his bag. What should have been a routine walk to work ended in a hellish nightmare....
Shion Allen was just about rounding a kerb leading to the Kingston waterfront on New Year’s Eve in 2021 when she saw a man walk up to the sidewalk and take off his bag.
What should have been a routine walk to work ended in a hellish nightmare.
Allen recalls the frightful ordeal that occurred just outside the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, which has left the 26-year-old nursing physical and emotional wounds.
Wielding a machete, the man, who appeared to be mentally ill, attacked her from behind, chopping her in the head and face.
“This man came charging at me from behind with his hand swinging. My mind went blank,” a distraught Allen recounted in a Gleaner interview on Thursday.
“I was just there screaming, ‘Somebody help!’ she said. “In the moment, I kept thinking I was going to die.”
After sustaining several wounds, a defenceless and shaken Allen was eventually rescued by a passer-by on a bicycle who pulled her attacker away.
She was then taken to the Kingston Public Hospital where she confronted the severity of her injuries.
“He ended up chopping me in the head, in my face, on my knee. I got one on my arm, and I have one near my bottom. So, in total, I got five chops,” she said.
Allen also sustained fractures to her lower jaw, with extensive damage to her incisors, and a busted upper lip.
She remembers frantically asking the man who took her to hospital where she got chopped. In her anguish, a tooth fell out, causing her to convulse and scream as the reality of her injuries became more apparent.
“In the moment, I didn’t know where I was being chopped, because I was in panic mode, but I just know that he was swinging. And while I was there screaming, I saw the man who rescued me using his bicycle to hold him off.”
What alerted Allen to her attacker’s mental state, she said, were bizarre utterances and a crazed disposition following the brutal attack.
“He just kept saying, ‘Ten years. Ten years’, and went back to sitting down in the same spot where he was before and just started looking off into the distance like when you are sitting on your verandah taking in scenery,” said Allen, a registry clerk with the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.
Two months since she was attacked, Allen is relieved that she survived and that her scars have begun to heal. The trauma from the aftermath of the attack still lingers.
After her short stay at the hospital, Allen visited family in Westmoreland and returned a month later to file a report at the City Centre Police Station on Tower Street in Kingston.
Allen was eventually sent to the Central Police Station at East Queen Street where she learned that her attacker had been detained but was eventually released.
“When I went to Central, the officer told me that, if I didn’t give a statement before, then they would not have held him that long,” said Allen.
Attempts to reach the City Centre and Central police stations were unsuccessful, as several calls went unanswered.
Allen, even with her battle scars, had more fortune than several persons who were killed by the mentally ill in 2021.
On September 21, Police Constable Paul Gordon was attacked and killed by a mentally ill man on King Street in Linstead, St Catherine. The attacker was killed by the police.
Eighteen days later, a mentally ill man was shot dead by the police after he beheaded a vendor in St Ann’s Bay and set a building on fire.
Resident psychiatrist at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, believes that, while the majority of mentally ill persons are non-violent, there is need for more collaborative intervention between the police and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“When we get crisis calls involving mentally ill persons, ideally we should have the support of the police. However, we are struggling to get that,” said Fitz-Henley, who heads the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, in a Gleaner interview on Thursday.
“... There are some police who will always help us. But, many times when we have cases that involve violence of some sort or weapons, the police are unwilling to come with us,” she added.
Fitz-Henley has raised concern about the deficit in community mental health staff at public hospitals across the island.
“The last thing we want is for a patient to be violent or for other persons to be hurt. But we do not have the ability to pick up random people off the street. And the truth is that we are stretched thin. We need additional persons, and we don’t have them because there are no more contracts the Ministry of Health and Wellness,” she said.
Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson contextualised the problem by giving the extent of police encounters with persons of unsound mind, indicating in a 2020 podcast that the Area Four police, which includes the Corporate Area and St Thomas, had received 446 crisis calls involving the mentally ill.
“This is what the police have been dealing with over the period. I think that gives a better perspective of the size of the problem,” the commissioner said then.
In the meantime, Allen said she has put to rest all hopes of getting justice from the State. She insists that the Government should take concrete steps to deal with mentally ill persons roaming the streets who attack members of the public.
But, with no information on her attacker, she is now in a state of resignation.
“I am at a dead end,” she said sighing.
“It can’t be that you know there are people of unsound mind attacking people and you pick them up and then release them back on the street.
“I was just a regular person going to work, minding my own business. I didn’t provoke this man. And now, every time I pass one of them, I have to be so on guard because I’m thinking they are going to attack me,” Allen added.