File Picture: Cedric “Burkie” Burke speaks to reporters near his Sea Lots home after being released by police in 2019.

The Sea Lots community was plunged into mourning following the death of their “leader, Cedric “Burkie” Burke, who died not by the hands of criminal elements but COVID-19.

Burke’s death was one in seven that occurred within a 24-hour period from Thursday to yesterday. Burke was the father of 17 by seven women, ten of whom are boys.

News of his death travelled fast over social media and among Sea Lots residents.

One close friend of Burke, who wished not to be named, told the Guardian Media his death came “suspiciously unexpected and as a shocker with many questions.”

“His children, especially two of his sons, are so distraught that they have many questions. We spoke to Burkie this morning (Friday) and everything was good, he was OK and now suddenly, after lunch, they said his health turned for the worst and that he had died but with this COVID-19 death now we wouldn’t get no proof…we would not even get his body because his body would have to be disposed of by the State because that is what we being told.”

One of his sons took to Instagram where he posted an emotional 14-second video saying: “I know all yuh kill my father boy…I know all yuh kill my father boy…I know all yuh kill my father boy…No corona never kill my father boy.”

Former MP for Port-of-Spain South Marlene Mc Donald, who was also Burke’s friend whom he called “Mother,” confirmed Burke’s death. She said he was a true constituent and true patriot of the People’s National Movement party.

Told of his reputation as a reputed gang leader, Mc Donald replied: “If he was involved in any nefarious activities I was not aware. It was never brought to me. I never had any problem with my constituent then (referring to Burke)…he exhibited the true patriot of the party. He lost his mother two months ago and he had called me to tell me. It is very sad…sad. I am not one to get involved in people’s personal lives.”

In July 2017, Mc Donald was fired just two days after being appointed Public Utilities Minister after Burke showed up at her swearing-in at President’s House, St Ann’s. Burke, who was arrested in 2011 and charged under the anti-gang law, was not invited to the event and told the media then he had just shown up to support Mc Donald. Speaking with media immediately after she was sworn in, McDonald said she invited Burke as he represented the best that East Port-of-Spain had to offer.

Following that incident, social media trolls had a field day where they inserted pictures of Burke from that day at the President’s house in memes. That trend continued up to his death yesterday.

Mc Donald disclosed that while everyone was laughing at the memes, Burke often called her to complain. “He used to call me and say ‘Mother they ain’t stopping…they doing it again with my picture…I only come because of you, I was so happy…It was a trying time for me and I prayed and asked for things to go smooth.”

She also said after she was charged Burke remained a loyal supporter to the PNM because of her.

“I was charged but never convicted and Mr Burke chat with me at my St James office and I told him that the party is bigger than all of us, do not let this incident push him away and he said to me, ‘Mother if was not for you I was out of this party…because of you and your caring ways I will stay on’.”

Mc Donald said she spoke to Burke’s wife yesterday and extended condolences to the family. However, she said because of her underlying medical condition of Bronchitis she would stay away for a while from the Sea Lots area.

Throughout the past decade, Burke had several run-ins with the law and also escaped death at the hand of criminal elements several times.

On February 3, 2019, a man was killed while eight others were shot and wounded in Sea Lots during a drive-by shooting at Pioneer Drive, Sea Lots. Burke, who was liming among the group, escaped unharmed. It was said that incident was an attempt on his life.

According to police, Burke was always described as a “big fish” and a person of interest in illegal activities but he was never convicted.

But Burke, in a previous interview with the media, described himself as a “successful black businessman who, because of his success, has gained the envy of everyone, even the police.”

Burke owned several businesses, including a construction company and a private security firm.

Youths in the Sea Lots area yesterday assured they will carry on Burke’s legacy by supporting his sons, who are involved in their father’s construction company.

“The boys (referring to Burke’s sons) have our loyalty and support. The same we gave their father, the same we will give to his wife and children because Burkie treated us real good…always gave us money, grocery stuff and jobs so that we can earn a honest living to put food on our own tables for our children. Burkie will be missed. We will take a long time to get over his death.”