It’s now been two months since the discovery of Andrea Bharatt’s body in the heights of Aripo brought the country to its knees.
In the days and weeks since, hundreds of people across T&T have gathered for candlelight vigils, demanding change. Somewhere in those crowds, their faces hidden behind masks were relatives of missing and murdered women who understood more than most the pain Andrea’s father felt. The Emmanuel family was among them.
As I entered the living room of their Mamoral home to do an interview, an image of their only daughter Sharday Emmanuel on a placard stared back at me. Everything else in the room faded into the background.
Her smile radiated warmth, but the text below her picture had a grim message: Female, African descent, five-feet tall, slim built, brown complexion, brown eyes, short black hair, missing since 27th June 2018.
“Sharday…Sharday was queenly. She was like a princess, she was an extremely feminine person,” said her father, Junior Emmanuel.
In her bedroom, an antique wooden closet is still full of her skirts and dresses, and her shoe rack full of sneakers and dress shoes, just the way she liked it. A 2018 calendar is also in that room where time has stood still since her disappearance.
Whether directly or indirectly, everything about the family’s life revolves around that year.
“That day. It was a Wednesday. She had two days off. She was supposed to go with her brother and a male friend to the airport because her brother was returning to Canada. At the last minute, she changed her mind and stayed home,” Emmanuel recalled.
Determined not to waste her days off, Sharday went to Chaguanas to shop. According to her parents, a male friend was supposed to pick her up when she was finished.
“There is footage of her going into the Centre City Mall in Chaguanas. There’s footage of her getting out of the mall and going into a taxi. The taxi was traced to drop her off at Longdenville. During that time, we tried calling her. He (her friend) also said he was trying to call her because he was trying to pick her up,” Emmanuel said.
Sharday always kept her parents informed about her whereabouts, so Emmanuel assumed something was wrong with her phone. But, as more calls went unanswered, he began to worry.
It was getting late.
“It was probably about 8 o’clock. Her mom and I were sitting down on the porch, waiting to see her come home because we were still calling but getting no answer. Then, we saw a male friend of hers driving up the road quickly. He came up the stairs and asked if we had seen Sharday,” Emmanuel, a driver for Donut Boys, recalled.
An hour later, there was still no sign of Sharday, so they called the police. On the advice of an officer, they filed a missing person report at the Brasso Police Station.
“We told them something is wrong. Our daughter is missing… They called the Anti-Kidnapping Unit and told them about our situation,” Sharday’s father said.
Two days later, officers from the Anti-Kidnapping Unit visited the family home and took statements from Sharday’s parents and a male friend. Investigators searched the premises, collecting items like her toothbrush and hairbrush to obtain DNA samples.
Their calls to Sharday’s phone also went unanswered.
“The day after she went missing, I went to work. I told people that if I had stayed home here, and knowing Sharday was not around, they would think I was going mad,” Emmanuel said, his eyes red and glassy.
“The next day, I put up all the windows in my van and I began calling out her name. Sharday, where are you? Sharday, Sharday,” he said.
Emmanuel went to work for another two weeks before realising he needed time off. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Sharday never came home.
Overwhelmed and drowning in depression, Emmanuel found comfort in prayer. He’s convinced it also brought answers.
“We didn’t ask anybody anything. People would call us and give us information. Sharday was going through this. Sharday wasn’t happy,” Emmanuel said.
According to Sharday’s close friends, the then-21-year-old told them in secret that she was being abused by a male friend. On the day she went missing, they claimed, she was going to end the friendship.
Guardian Media obtained Whatsapp voice notes sent by Sharday to her friends days before she went missing.
In one of the voice notes she said: “Last year, I decided to come out and let him know that this ain’t working out. When I came out and let him know, that’s when he started. He didn’t want me to leave, so every time I mentioned it to him, you know, that I fed up and wanted to go, he continued beating me for me to stay.”
In another she said: “I just fed up because I tell myself if I continue staying there and just giving in, sooner or later, it have plenty woman I know was in an abusive relationship and the only way they come out was through death.”
She never told her parents about the abuse.
Long wait for DNA results
A year after Sharday went missing, a woman’s body was found in the Santa Flora area. After learning about it in a news report, Emmanuel asked investigators to view the body. It was wrapped in carpet and burnt beyond recognition, so officers showed him pictures instead.
As he instinctively knew he would, he recognised something in the pictures—a piece of clothing. He was certain that the tie-dye skirt belonged to his daughter.
“They said, alright, we have to do some testing on that. It’s almost three years now that my daughter is missing, and we are still waiting on that DNA test . . . My daughter’s body could probably be in forensics in Port-of-Spain in a freezer,” Emmanuel lamented.
According to sources, the Forensic Science Centre’s DNA lab has been down for two years because of infrastructural issues. DNA testing recently resumed at a private lab in Port-of-Spain. Before that, samples were sent abroad for testing, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and taking months for results to be returned. This, in turn, created a backlog that sources said will take years to clear.
“The authorities know what happened to her but because we haven’t gotten the DNA results. Her case cannot move from a missing person case to a homicide unless we get the DNA result,” Sharday’s father said.
While he longs for closure, he admitted knowing it would likely result in a mental breakdown. But for Junior Emmanuel justice for Sharday means far more to him than his sanity.
“Ashanti Riley went missing, her body was found. Somebody was held for that. Andrea Bharatt went missing for days, her body was found. People were held for that. My daughter is still a missing person and the person responsible is still out there. What are the authorities waiting on? For somebody else to go missing?” he asked angrily.
Asked what he would say to his daughter if she could hear him, he had this to say: “Sharday, mommy and daddy are always here for you. You could have come and talked with us before and let us know exactly what you were going through, instead of friends… Daddy and mommy were always there for you no matter what.”
Emmanuel pleaded with women in abusive relationships to speak up and tell someone.
A male friend was questioned by investigators shortly after Sharday went missing but was released because of a lack of evidence.
No one has been held in connection since.
July 30 would have been Sharday’s 24th birthday.