MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA—The 144 men, women and children summoned to church, robed in white, found themselves witnessing a macabre ritual of sacrificial death and facing the long arms of police and military personnel.
The hellish nightmare played out in the Jamaican city of Montego Bay on the night of Sunday, Oct. 17, in contravention of a government decree that, with a few exceptions, there should be no movement islandwide in keeping with ongoing efforts to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. If anyone saw this coming, they had kept it secret. Even some police officers were among the church's congregation, the city's Police Commissioner, Antony Anderson, said in a press briefing about the incident.
The church of the self-styled "Prophet to the Nations," proclaimed as His Excellency Dr. Kevin O. Smith, has been operating for many years under his Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries. A copy of his biography obtained by The Daily Beast identifies Smith as "former crown Ambassador of the Throne of Nubia Sheba, globe traveller to over 100 countries worldwide and Yeshu'a Hamashiach end time Prophet to the Nations."
In Facebook posts on Sunday, Smith had warned his followers of an incoming "flood" and instructed them not to take their cell phones to church that evening, but one member's disobedience might have prevented a massacre. The police disclosed that it was an errant female follower who was overwhelmed by the sight of another young lady being killed in front of the congregation that caused her to leave and call the police.The Pathways Christian Cathedral, approximately a mile from downtown Montego Bay, became the scene of a deadly confrontation when police and army personnel responded to the call.
Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force communications arm, told The Daily Beast that "from the police standpoint, we're currently investigating a case of double murder and three counts of wounding." A third death that occurred during the face-off with police is under investigation. Lindsay added that "the leader of the congregation along with others are in police custody as the police try to decipher exactly what transpired."
While Lindsay couldn't yet provide details about the circumstances of the fatalities, one female congregant who spoke with the Jamaican Observer on the condition of anonymity said that she was waiting to enter the church when she witnessed another woman's throat being "slashed" inside. "When I saw blood and the young lady fell, I said 'This is it for me,'" she told the outlet, adding that she escaped with a teenager after seeing two other members leap over the property's fence in the midst of the chaos. Another anonymous escapee, who was reportedly inside the church when the "ritual" commenced, told Jamaica's Gleaner she witnessed a "senior" church figure stabbing members after being told they'd be embarking on a "heavenly journey."
Merline Lewin, a Montego Bay resident who lives a stone's throw from the church, was in shock over the ordeal. "It is traumatizing. It traumatized me so much I've not been sleeping or eating well. I've not left home to do no business because of what is taking place," she told The Daily Beast.
Two days had passed, but she remembered what happened that Sunday night vividly. "It is so shocking to know that this man came up here almost three and a half years ago, and the first time I spoke with this man, he told me he is going to put this community on the map. I didn't know what he meant by that." She said she continued to communicate with him on social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp, until about a year ago when the cows, goats, pigs and fowls Smith had allowed to roam freely in his churchyard sparked tension between them.
Lewin said she found it very unusual for Smith to keep all of these animals at the church he built in a residential community within the city. "I asked him why didn't he carry them to a country area? He said it was safer here for him."
According to Lewin, Smith also was seeking to purchase land next door, situated between his church and a Yahweh church, which itself was embroiled in a major tussle with police two years ago over children taken from their homes to stay at the church.
In his biography, Smith is also described as "an ordained minister of the Gospel at 17 years old and at 18 years old, he was ordained the National Evangelist for Canada by his Bishops. His dedication to the work of God coupled with his humble disposition was the catalyst that set in motion his meteoric rise as God's mouthpiece and prophet to the nations." He claimed a church membership of 800.
Smith had allegedly built rooms in the back of the church and "had children over there, young people with babies come over there and live," Lewin said.
The dramatic event last Sunday night was somewhat reminiscent of the Jim Jones saga in the U.S., with police having to commandeer their way into the church amidst opposition and an exchange of gunfire that sent church members, clad only in white gowns, and children scampering for cover, says Lewin.
While the police try to unravel what might have been taking place at the church behind a chin-high wall, Milton Ricketts, who, though not a member of the church, says he knew Smith well after having lived in the same community as him, told The Daily Beast the unfolding drama wasn't surprising to him.
"This man, not only has he done this despicable thing, but it has been going on for years," Ricketts said. "And the people have been brainwashed, including the children, and they have been taught things which are unscriptural and they have suffered damage in their soul."
Ricketts told The Daily Beast he had been hearing strange tales about Smith's attitude of "self-importance." "I observed it myself, he likes to have people bowing down before [him], to be subservient," said Smith. Even to serve him water, "they would have to take the knee and he had to be addressed by his preferred title, Crown Bishop at all times."
Ricketts and Lewin said that congregants were told how much money they needed to offer to Smith, who allegedly raked in thousands from his followers.
Referring to the tight hold Smith had over his congregation, Ricketts told The Daily Beast: "I do know he has caused splits in families, serious split to the extent where I know of a family where the kids were estranged from the parents. The parents were excommunicated from the church and the kids never spoke to the parents again."
Ricketts, a devout Christian, said he is deeply concerned for the psychological well-being of the children attending what he preferred to call Smith's organization, rather than a church. "These people come and Satan sets them up in what he calls a church, which is a smokescreen; it was from day one a cult," he said.
Ricketts claims the children's minds have been warped and that "their emotions are not what they ought to be." "Some seeds have been sown deep, deep in the recesses of these children's minds," he said. "And they might not germinate right now, but they are going to produce the truth one day."
All the adults taken into custody have been charged for breaching the country's Disaster Risk Management Act, under which government's sets out COVID-related security measures. The female members have been released on bail, and the 14 children involved have been taken into custody and are now wards of the state.
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