Road fatalities are not uncommon in Jamaica, but the car crash that took place on the morning of October 25 at Linstead Bypass, a busy main road in the parish of St. Catherine, was no ordinary collision. The occupants of the unmarked police car, which was following a police service vehicle with siren blaring, were three police officers and suspect Kevin Smith, leader of a cult-like church in Montego Bay on the island's north coast. Smith was being transferred to the capital, where charges were to be laid against him for an attack on two of his followers, who died after having their throats slashed by other congregants as a “human sacrifice.”
Another suspect, Andre Ruddock, was being transported in the police car in front, which turned back once the smash happened. Ruddock had been charged with one count of murder and one of wounding with intent. Police soon confirmed that Smith was killed in the collision, along with a young police officer who was sitting at the back with him. The two officers in front were critically injured and remain hospitalised. Although there were several eyewitnesses, the exact details of the crash remain unclear.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn confirmed that Smith and his co-accused were being transferred to Kingston because they would not have been given a fair trial in Montego Bay.
This was a sensational ending to a lurid, almost incredible saga that had been making headlines for just over a week, with Jamaican social media users on tenterhooks as the story unfolded. The incident that led to the arrests took place on the evening of October 17. Montego Bay police were summoned to a property owned by Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries, after a man and a woman died as a result of a knife attack, but some suspect its genesis was linked to Smith, the self-styled “excellency” of the outfit, referring to the COVID-19 vaccine as “the mark of the beast.”
One Twitter user made a correlation between his followers’ blind obedience and the bigger issue of Jamaicans’ vaccine hesitancy. Smith, an anti-vaxxer, had told congregants that only those of “pure blood”—that is, unvaccinated followers—would be allowed to enter the “ark,” allegedly prompting the murders that followed:
Evil Cult pastor Kevin Smith who does not know “file” different from “FOIL”. Making human sacrifices and look at his lavish lifestyle. Is when Jamaicans became so gullible? To believe this satanic demon but not trained scientists? Then a sp we in JA🇯🇲 fool fool? Sasscrise! pic.twitter.com/TLmi714JxN
— cmac (@swankycamille) October 18, 2021
The vaccinated congregant who called the police had herself been injured. On arrival, officers were reportedly attacked by a Pathways member, whom they shot dead. They detained 42 others, mostly women—among them a policewoman—for questioning, while the 14 children present have been placed in state care.
The following morning, National Security Minister Horace Chang, who is also the area's parliamentary representative, visited the scene with Police Commissioner Antony Anderson. Other YouTube videos soon began to circulate, including first-hand accounts and revelations by current and past congregation members, who claimed that Smith had summoned as many as 144 congregants that evening, as “a flood was coming.” Attendees had been told to wear white, to leave their cell phones at home wrapped in tin foil, and to prepare to enter the “ark.” Smith had recently appeared in YouTube videos sitting on a throne-like chair behind a large desk, from which he ranted. Three years earlier, he had been escorted through the streets of Montego Bay in a stretch limousine for an “enthronement” ceremony on his birthday.
Another concerning video, which was anonymously leaked to social media, purportedly showed Smith sitting in the police station—barefoot, uncuffed and not behind bars—preaching his religious theories, while laughter was heard in the background. Police have since said they are investigating the video, which raised many questions and concerns, including how easy it appears for predators to profit off of people under the guise of religion:
— Loop Jamaica (@LoopJamaica) October 24, 2021
One Twitter user wondered what kind of hold Smith, who owned three homes, had over his congregants, from whom he made many financial demands, including fines for arriving late:
Sometimes we are just not paying attention. Who really is this man His Excellency Bishop Kevin Smith? pic.twitter.com/gKFoQxiqmu
— Carlene Sinclair (@iamcarlenes) October 18, 2021
With typical wicked humour, many comments centred around Smith's acquisition of tremendous wealth, with one netizen imagining him charging an entrance fee to enter hell.
Still, many serious questions remain:
Deceased cult leader Kevin Smith’s family has now hired his attorney to settle his estate.
How many members of his flock has him as beneficiary for life insurance? The woman whose throat was slashed at his behest had attempted to put him on her policy a yr ago.#MobayCult
— Sound Chat Radio (@IrishandChin) October 26, 2021
Valerie Neita Roberston, the attorney representing Smith, told the media that police had not kept her informed of her client's whereabouts, so she had no idea he was being transferred to Kingston. She also said that church members were being ostracised by the wider community, claiming, “This is a threat against churches. It is reminiscent of the ancient days in which the Church was persecuted.”
She continued, “[T]his frenzy which is driving members of the Church to be ostracised and their constitutional rights breached is dangerous not only to them but to all Jamaicans and besmirches the good name of our country, as it has gone viral.” Her comments only heightened Jamaicans’ sense of unreality, with one tweeting:
Jamaica: The Kevin Smith story https://t.co/Ndqt14TyiB
— Carina ✊🏾🇯🇲 (@_CarinaWh) October 25, 2021
Just like a movie, it appears there may be many twists and turns to come. Questions linger—and rumours circulate—over the actions of the police; what was really happening inside Pathways and other possible cult-like organisations; how did the fatal collision happen, and the pressures that COVID-19 have brought on Jamaican society.
With these events leaving five people dead and several more injured, it is, perhaps, less of a drama and more of a tragedy that has many Jamaicans wondering about the psyche of its people.