It was Ash Wednesday morning and Trinidad was waking up to a Carnival hangover. Trash from the raucous two-day festival still covered the streets of Port of Spain as daylight crept across the Queen’s Park Savannah. The huge expanse of grass and trees on the edge of the capital was serene compared to the past two days of music and dancing.
But then came the screams.
Geoff Adams had just woken up on a park bench and was walking home through the Savannah when he heard the shrieking. A homeless man was pointing at a patch of bushes and screaming, so Adams walked over to see what was going on, he told local paper the Guardian.
“The guy say he see something in the bushes. I say it was a manicou [possum] or iguana,” Adams said. “But when I look I see a bikini bottom.”
Underneath the bright yellow bikini bottom was the body of Asami Nagakiya, a 30-year-old Japanese professional musician. She had come to Trinidad to participate in Carnival, as she had in previous years. Now she was dead, still dressed in her bejeweled masquerade outfit.
“She had a laceration on her elbow and black and blue marks on her waist,” Adams told reporters. “It look like a rape/murder to me.”
Authorities released an autopsy report Thursday stating that Nagakiya had been strangled, according to television station CNC. They have not commented on the suspicion that Nagakiya was sexually assaulted.
Police have questioned a man and woman over the crime but have yet to make any arrests, reported the Guardian.
After two days of joy, the killing came as a shock for locals and the thousands of tourists who flock to the island nation every year for the famously vibrant festival.
“Life is so unfair,” her friend Mariah Rodriguez wrote on Facebook beneath a photo of them posing in their matching Carnival outfits. “This young lady loved our culture and people, and someone took that away from her…you monsters disgust me!”
Outrage over the crime, however, quickly shifted towards the city’s mayor after he suggested that by dressing in a revealing costume and dancing, Nagakiya was to blame for her own killing.
“You know before Carnival I did make a comment about vulgarity and lewdness,” Raymond Tim Kee said during a Wednesday press conference, according to local media station Loop. “The woman has the responsibility to ensure that [she is] not abused.”
Kee’s cringe-worthy comments kept getting worse, as he tried to link the Japanese musician’s killing to Carnival culture.
“And my argument was you could enjoy Carnival without going through that routine … of prancing and partying,” he asked. “Then why you can’t continue with that and maintain some kind of dignity?”
Kee kept digging his hole, however.
“You have to let your imagination roll a bit and figure out was there any evidence of resistance or did alcohol control?” he told reporters. “Therefore involuntary actions were engaged in, and so on ….
“It’s a matter of, if she was still in her costume – I think that’s what I heard – let your imagination roll,” he added, before casting the killing less as an outrageous crime than as an “embarrassment” for the city.
“My comment is that is rather embarrassing for us, the City, it is embarrassing for Carnival,” he said. “Our culture is not just playing mas,” he added, referring to the practice of dressing up in costume and accompanying a soca band through the streets. “There are a lot of other subcultures people engage in all year, and therefore they have to be very alert and very careful about whom they associating with when they go out.”
Kee’s comments immediately drew outrage. Critics, particularly women, accused him of sexism and victim blaming.
“What the heck is he talking about? He is an idiot! Let your imagination wonder?” one woman commented. “How about let the police do the job and find out what the heck happen[ed]. There is no excuse for murder.”
“This is some type of gibberish,” wrote another female commenter.
Within hours, a woman had launched an online petition calling for Kee’s resignation. By early Friday morning, it had gathered nearly 7,000 signatures. (That equates to roughly 10 percent of the population of Port of Spain.)
“Victim shaming is an irresponsible thing for anyone to do, far less a leader in a society,” wrote Rhoda Bharath, a St Augustine resident who signed the petition. “[The] Mayor has shown himself to be both insensitive, preemptive and ignorant. He must go.”
“Tim Kee is an example of everything wrong with leadership in this country,” added Ryan Ramoutar, a signatory from Point Fortin. “His thinking is archaic and his opinion essentially exonerates the perpetrators of any responsibility. He has, effectively, endorsed murder.”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Keith Rowley, the head of Kee’s People’s National Movement party, said that his government does not support victim blaming and that Kee was sorry for his statements. Rowley rejected calls for Kee to resign, however.
Shortly afterward, Kee himself apologized, but in awkward, third-person and somewhat passive-aggressive statement.
“His Worship the Mayor of Port of Spain Alderman Raymond Tim Kee unequivocally apologizes to women and the national population who were offended by remarks attributed to him following the death of carnival visitor and mas player, Asami Nagakiya,” it began, before then equivocating.
“Mayor Tim Kee says that his comments were completely misconstrued,” it continued. “He agrees that his comments could have been considered out of line, but despite the anger being expressed from many quarters including feminist groups and activists, he has also received calls of support from several women agreeing with him on the lack of modesty displayed by some women and girls on the streets during the Carnival Celebrations.
“There is indeed a concern about the behaviour of both male and female mas players generally as they are now being emulated by children who believe that lewd behaviour and carnival go hand in hand.”
Critics then pounced on his sorry-not-sorry statement.
“He still doesn’t understand,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “The ‘apology’ is still laden with misogyny and in it he reinforces his position that victims of abuse are liable and should be blamed.”
The leader of the island’s political opposition demanded that Kee be fired.
“Mayor Tim Kee didn’t even offer condolences on the death of Ms. Nagakiya but proceeded to offer scandalous speculation in relation to the possible circumstances surrounding her death,” said Kamla Persad-Bissessar. “It is unbelievable that in a 21st century society, the mayor of the capital city can utter such outrageous and misogynistic statements about the death of a talented young woman, given that the facts are not yet known.”
Amid the roar of outrage, locals overcame their stunned silence to honor the slain woman. Many mentioned that unlike most foreigners, Nagakiya kept coming back because she cherished the island and its culture.
“This [death] is great shock to us since she was no stranger to T&T,” businessman Larry Lai, who had known Nagakiya for seven years, told the Guardian.
“She was a person who used to take the art of pan [steel drum] all over Asia,” he said. “She fell in love with pan but we realised she had also fallen in love with T&T. She told me she used to work all year to save up to come to T&T to play for Carnival.”
Nagakiya had performed with a local soca band, the PCS Nitrogen Silver Stars, for the past five years. In a statement posted to Facebook, the group said it was “truly heartbroken” about the killing of “one of our bright stars, and a loving friend.
“Asami Nagakiya was a truly beautiful, and gentle soul,” the group said. “She was warm, friendly, and always greeted you with her signature broad smile and a hug. Everyone loved Asami and there is not one person that has anything negative to say about her.”
The band said it would hold a prayer service for its fallen pannist on Thursday night.
Nagakiya was not the first person to die during recent Carnivals in Trinidad. Last year, five people were slain during the festival, according to local newspaper Newsday, leading officials to promise better security in 2016.
In an interview apparently given before the discovery Wednesday morning of Nagakiya’s body, Trinidad and Tobago’s acting police commissioner, Stephen Williams, declared this year’s Carnival a success. He added that 42 people had been arrested during the two-day festival, but did not mention any deaths, according to the Loop.
As Trinidadian officials prepared to ship Nagakiya’s body back to Japan, the tide of anger towards Kee and his controversial comments began to recede, leaving a lingering sadness where there should have been the afterglow of a joyous Carnival.
“Poor girl,” one person commented online. “Such a tragedy [for this] to occur on what should be the greatest show on earth.”