News day / When she went missing almost two years ago, her children believed she was a victim of a crime and they would never see her alive again.
The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT) department head was last seen on July 27, 2015 at about 5.30pm at an ATM machine at Tru Valu Supermarket, Diamond Vale, Diego Martin where she went to make a withdrawal.
And as the two year anniversary of her disappearance approaches, Sunday Newsday spoke to her sons about the life of their mother and the investigation into her disappearance.
Sven and Klas Charles-Harris were at her home in Blue Range, Diego Martin for the interview last week. In the garage is her champagne-coloured Nissan Almera which was found at Indian Walk, Princes Town one day after she went missing. Sven said he still thinks about his mother every day.
Not all the time. But in the quiet moments I reflect. I wonder still what happened to her. He believes a crime was perpetrated as his mother, very dedicated to her family and to her church, would never just leave the country.
He said her ambition was to be an educator and to have God in her life. Her main concern was young black youth who grow up with no guidance and in poverty.
She was the kind of person who had a big heart, could be very stern and strict, quick to laughter, loving and traditional.
FROM MORVANT TO SWEDEN
Ch a r l e s -Ha r r i s and her then future husband Dr Harold Charles-Harris grew up in Morvant. They left the country to study abroad – he, medicine and she, marine biology __ and were the first in their respective families to do so. They met while abroad, got married, honeymooned in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and decided to remain in Sweden.
The couple had four children: a girl Kari, then three boys Sven, Steen (who died four years ago from pancreatic cancer), Klas and another girl Helen.
They were the only black people wherever they went and people would try to rub their skin and touch their hair.
They also experienced instances of outright racism.
Sven said outside the home they experienced the Swedish culture, but at home their mother promoted the Trinidad culture. She would go to a butcher and ask for ox tail to cook for them, much to his confusion.
She would also cook stewed chicken and curry. Their mother was not into calypso but played classical music for them.
They moved back to Trinidad in 1977 and at that time their parents divorced. The children spent their teenage years and attended secondary school here but all left to pursue studies abroad. They would return to Trinidad occasionally to visit their mother who Sven recalled was alone in the big house. During their visits, she would pull out all the bells and whistles, cooking traditional foods and give them fresh sorrel – Klas favourite drink. He said his although his mother liked to cook food for herself, her favourite restaurant was Sails in Chaguaramas because she liked the serenity and the food.
His mother kept active, being involved with the local arm of the womens NGO Soroptimist International, singing in the St Augustine Girls alumni choir and attending church at Trinidad Christian Centre, Petit Valley.
Sven would return for an aquaculture project in Wallerfield and Klas to work in the tourist industry in Tobago. At the time of Charles-Harris disappearance Sven and Kari were in Trinidad and they spent the day before with her at home watching Formula One racing.
Two days later, Sven received a call that her car was found abandoned in Princes Town and he was asked to drive there to identify it. He then had the task of informing the rest of the family.
She held the post of head of the environmental studies department at COSTAATT at the time of her disappearance.
Sven said he knew immediately something was amiss as the furthest his mother would go driving alone would be to Valpark for choir practice or to do work with Soroptimists.
He said she would not normally drive at night.
Police investigated the possibility of her leaving the country but he knew she never would. He said they had encouraged her to leave the house and get an apartment but she was determined to leave the house for her children.
WE BELIEVE SHE IS DEAD
Sven described the police work as poor to non-existent. He said it has been a trial for the family as the police were not answering nor returning their calls.
Between West End (in Diego Martin), Princes Town and Anti- Kidnapping Squad, not a peep. They not telling us anything. No updates. Cold case. He also spoke of the difficulty in retrieving her vehicle which had been left open and exposed to the weather.
Sven said they believe their mother is dead but it would take seven years to legally declare her dead.
We cannot have a memorial service until the seven years is up.
It is hard when it concerns closure. We are still in limbo. We know she is not going to pop up. Without a doubt, she is gone. Klas said with the crime situation on a daily basis in the country, police quickly move on.
I imagine it is overwhelming.
They cannot stick with one case. He also said he does not believe the police have the technical equipment and forensic capability to pursue cases. He described Trinidad as a paradise on earth but crime was the proverbial fly in the ointment and a few individuals were making things bad for everyone.
The majority of people are generous, open-hearted, kind, like to lime and like Carnival. Klas dont miss a Carnival. After his mother disappeared, Klas went to Sweden for a year-and-a-half before returning to renovate his mothers house. He said it was hard being in the house and being reminded of her. He finds himself cursing at things that his mother never repaired.
He said COSTAATT and Bishop Anstey Junior School, where his mother was principal, were planning initiatives in her honour. His sister Helen was also looking at setting up a scholarship fund. On July 26, the anniversary of her disappearance, the children will come together and eat pelau.
Charles-Harris, born on February 1, 1937, would be 80 yearsold if she is still alive.
According to police sources, the case was moved from the Anti- Kidnapping Unit to the Homicide Bureau and remains open.