By Innocent Chia
A week after a 14 year-old student was found dead on campus at Our Lady of Lourdes College in Mankon, Bamenda, many, many questions remain unanswered and the details are still very scanty. What is a known fact is that a literally lifeless body of Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo was discovered by a fellow student behind the school hall during lunch hour. The story allegedly goes that Veronique Mvogo drank parazone - a poisonous laundry bleaching detergent if swallowed - and completed the act by strangling herself with a sweater...
What would prompt a 14 year-old girl to take away her own life, cause untold trauma to her already split family, and bequeath her schoolmates and institution such a scarred memory? Equally very important moving forward, there is a dire need to know how prepared Our Lady of Lourdes is to handle such unforeseen and unfortunate incidents; indeed, how prepared was the school for the last incident? How prepared or equipped are these schools to deal with psychological breakdown? As the world mourns the lives of 20 kids and six adults that were gunned down senselessly in Conneticut, a candle too should be lit for the life of Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo.
It is reported that the deceased teen was accused by another dorm mate of stealing CFA 20,000 frs ($40.00) and some material for the upcoming Golden Jubilee of the reputable all-girls secondary and high school. It seems to be immaterial, so far, what “material” she allegedly stole and what it is the girls are/were supposed to be doing with, safe to say it was probably for decorative purposes.
It is also reported that the “material” was shared among the students of Fatima dormitory. Later on during the day, after every dorm mate of Fatima had received their “material”, one of the students reported to the dormitory captain that her material had been stolen along with the sum of CFA 20.000frs.The dormitory captain began a frantic search…finding these items some time later in Veronique's possession.
Reaction to the Action
It is reported that the dormitory captain took the matter to the principal of the school, who allegedly said she was going to deal with the matter next term because school was closing the next day, Friday December 15th. It is also alleged that victim initially attempted suicide by trying to stab herself with a knife. According to these same questionable sources, the dormitory captain saved the day during that initial attempt, seizing the knife from the afflicted teen.
But the teen was supposedly far from done with the first attempt. She had a plan B which she allegedly waited to execute while the rest of the student body was in the refectory for lunch. Rather than bask in the agony of further humiliation, she allegedly made a deadly parazone cocktail for herself.
Justice Delayed, justice denied
There is no doubt that the principal of the School, who was most likely swamped with very pressing matters, is running the tape over and over in her mind. Everything she was probably working on at the time is, in retrospect, smaller now than it was then. She probably wishes she had done things differently; she probably wishes she had dropped everything she was doing to settle the matter and say a word of treasure to the victim that may have kept her away from succumbing to the treachery of her darkest moment.
There will be no “next term” for Veronique. In fact, she did not live to see the end of term the very next day. Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo preempted the principal and her procrastination. She allegedly decided to deal with the shame and humiliation her own way, leaving us and those who will forever mourn for her with some questions that must be addressed.
What really happened to Veronique that day?
Was she guilty or there is a possibility that the “material” and money was planted? There is no doubt that if there is a police investigation, as there ought to be around this matter, it will be important to establish whether she had a history of stealing as accused. Conversely, it is also important to establish the credibility of the accusing student. It is unsettling to think that a teen would easily settle for such a way out if they were guilty of the crime, but she is not here to tell us what really happened.
Did she really have the guts to drink the parazone on her own, or is there someone that is missing from the picture? If she survived the deadly cocktail, did she have enough strength to strangulate with a sweater? How hard did she knot the sweater? Are there any forensic experts that can determine the angle of the knots and how she may have done it on her own? Did the police pick up any evidence from the scene? If so, what are they going to be looking for and how soon before they share the information?
What triggered her reaction?
It is not unreasonable to think that this decision, if it is what we think it is, must have been triggered by some other things that were compounded by the allegation of theft. Was she looking forward to going back to a stable and loving home for the holidays? Or was she contemplating the ordeal of walking into another mine zone of accusations, counter-accusations and finger-pointing?
Where did she die?
As at now, it is still not clear whether she died on the spot at Our Lady of Lourdes or she was conveyed to and died at the hospital. Why is this important? Well, if she was still alive when they rushed her to hospital, it is important to know whether the first responders there had any shot at saving her life. Was the upper sixth student who found her lifeless body trained in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), or is the student prefect trained to be a first responder? What other measures are in place?
I was no longer a student of CPC bali when a teacher, Mr Sali finished running the famous Matterhorn school marathon and died upon arrival. What happened to him? Was the school equipped to help save this young man from dying in his prime?
Are staff members trained to step-in in case of such emergencies? Is the school dispensary equipped enough to handle such emergencies? How far away are the dormitories from the school dispensary and how far-off are the first responders - including the health prefect, student dispensary coordinator and other staff members?
How much did the dormitory prefect tell the principal and what did she do with the information?
It is extremely important to find out what the dormitory captain told the principal and when. We want to know whether information of the victim’s first attempt at self-stabbing was reported to the principal. This is crucial because it should have set off all kinds of alarms, or should, moving forward, set up all kinds of suicide watch alarms. The knife was certainly the child’s way of crying for help. Whether she was taken seriously or not is now a judgment call.
A better judgment call would have been a policy whereby all students keep the deadly parazone in safe places, and have to sign them out at laundry time. While we may be Monday morning quarterbacking for Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo, this just may save another stray thought tomorrow. This may be in the form of a Student Handbook that every student is handed on admission and is expected to master and defend. It is something that Schools and Churches alike should work on and provide to parents and their kids, laying out a code of conduct, expectations, rights and responsibilities on all sides – schools, parents and kids.
The Mass held for Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo last Thursday night, with the archbishop and almost all the priests in Bamenda, is not one that any parent wants to attend. But it is a Mass that reminds us of how perishable the human being is and how we ought to be taking care of each other, including the least and weakest of us.
Maybe Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo’s death will not be in vain. May be she is the sacrificial lamb, much like Joseph that was sold into slavery by his brothers, whose death will appeal to the better senses of bickering LESANS in the USA. Four days after celebrating mass for Veronique Emmanuella Mvogo on December 18th, the Archbishop of Bamenda and Proprietor of the School wrote to LESANS in the USA about reconciling their differences. Inter alia, the clergyman wrote in communique J-511/L/12/265:
“Reconciliation is a moment of grace for those who open their heart to receive it, and nobody can be forced to be reconciled. However, we must move on while waiting for that moment of grace to come to those who are not yet ready to accept it to do so”.
There must be many who are now doubling down on themselves with pity and are horror-filled with the outcome of their actions or inactions. They probably wish they had reconciled whatever differences they had with her. But she is gone. LESANS still have time to fix their problems.
Among those problems to fix, it is imperative that they include suggestions for a fulltime social worker and counselor on Board at their Alma Mater to help the overtaxed chaplain. What is good for the goose is good for the gander… The only schools that currently have counselors are government schools, be it as it may that the student-to-counselor ratio is out of whack. LESANS: do not let the death of Veronique Emmanuella go to waste! At least give the mourning parents one reason to say their daughter did not die in vain.