Last Friday night when Sherine Perry-Howell realised that her husband had not returned home for the first time in their 10 years of marriage, her worst fear was that he had been robbed of his vehicle and was left abandoned somewhere.
Despite the wave of deadly violence across the country, Perry-Howell admitted that she never thought her husband, Tanijah Howell, 39-year-old maths teacher at Charlemont High School, would have been found dead.
“I thought that something bad had happened because he never stayed out late, or gone anywhere and has never come home, but I really did not think it was this bad. I thought that it could be a case where they took away his car and left him abandoned in an unknown location,” the grieving wife told the Jamaica Observer at the school yesterday.
Howell’s body was found last Saturday morning in bushes in Barrett Hall, St Ann with two gunshot wounds.
Perry-Howell, who was accompanied to the school by her two children — eight-year-old Tahj and six-year-old Shalini, who were seemingly oblivious to the grief around them — had reported her husband missing on Saturday morning around 8:00. An hour later she got the devastating news of his untimely demise.
“So I am speculating that the time when I was making the report, that was when they found him. And, like any person who gets a message like that, I was shocked. I cried, I screamed,” said Perry-Howell, who explained that she was not aware of her husband planning to visit St Ann, neither did she know of any other plan he had for Friday evening.
“He went to work, took the kids to school, picked them up in the evening. He took Tahj to the barber, they ate, and then he left them with my church sister,” she recalled.
Perry-Howell described her husband as “humble, jovial, loyal to his job, his children, and to his family, and very hard-working”.
His caring nature, she said, is what she will miss most.
“It is not easy, and you have me at one of the good moments; but it’s rough, it’s tough, and his death has sunk it, but I have two small kids so I have to be strong for them,” she added.
Initially, the mood at the school was light as Howell’s students laughed and reminisced about the maths teacher’s life.
Amid writing tributes to him on a chart inside the 5H classroom, they remembered him as a very jovial and fun-loving person who would always greeted the class with a joke. He was also described as a role model, a confidant to whom they could talk about anything, as well as an excellent maths teacher who was very warm and caring.
“If he was here now he would a come and say ‘Mi Clarks look nice eeh’,” Shemar Edwards said.
“Or him would say ‘Class, stop the noise nuh, unnuh nuh hear dem a pray’, even though no one was praying,” Keona Stewart added, eliciting laughter from her classmates.
“Sir was the type of person, if him get vex now him woulda just calm down and just share a joke. Sometimes we just sit down with him and talk about anything; him always a share a joke,” Tara Wright recalled.
They also spoke highly about his teaching skills, noting that he would oftentimes dramatise his lessons to ensure that they understood, and would not move on unless they did. And, if they did not fully understand a topic he would invite them to his maths class, which he kept at his home on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for Grade Six Achievement Test and Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate students.
“Mi still nuh believe say him gone,” Rajeim Gordon said,
“Mi haffi go wait till funeral day when mi see him in the coffin,” Wright added.
The light-hearted mood eventually changed shortly after Howell’s wife started speaking with them. Many broke down in tears. Some cried aloud, while a few of the male students hurriedly left the classroom.
There were no dry eyes among the teachers either, including Principal Garth Gayle.
Some teachers sought to comfort the students.
Among them was Kaliah Gordon, an English teacher whom Howell had taught.
“He was very compassionate… just selfless. He taught me that teaching is not just a calling, it’s lifestyle. I can remember a time when someone had misbehaved in class and after reprimanding that student he apologised,” she told the
Observer before succumbing to tears.
Principal Gayle, whose eyes were red from crying, sniffled as he tried to hold back tears. However, he lost that fight as he reflected on Howell’s life.
“It was a sad news [that] greeted the family; first that he was missing, and then another sad news that he was murdered,” Gayle said.
“It is very sad because Mr Howell grew with us here at Charlemont. From all information he has been with us in the community and at the school from he was 19, and it will be very difficult to replace him,” Gayle said.
“This has been the only job that he has known, and he was very remarkable at it. Our present head boy, whom he has impacted, said that he doesn’t know what to do now because his maths master has died,” the principal added.
Gayle said Howell will be remembered for his contribution, especially in the area of maths, and the school will be doing something in his honour to keep his memory alive.
According to the principal, one suggestion is to stage a march in the community.
“Something needs to be said about these wanton killings. How could someone seek to snuff out such a life that is making such a positive impact in the community?” he asked.
“He was very dynamic and he would always go beyond the call of duty.”
“This is the second sad moment for me in my 30 years of teaching, because I lost a parent to gun violence while I was at Angels Primary and I never thought I would have to relive this moment. But we just have to continue to find that energy and believe in the Lord, and if there’s ever a time we need to bond as family, now is the time,” Gayle said as tears welled up in his eyes.
“But while we mourn, we will be happy because the Lord gave him to us and He knows best,” he added.
Board Chairman Professor Colin Gyles, who visited the school with other board members and grief counsellors, said Howell was a very integral part of the school and will be sorely missed.