In Grenada, Wednesday October 19, 1983 is remembered as Bloody Wednesday, the day that Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several of his closest supporters and several Grenadian citizens were killed by members of Grenada’s PRA who were loyal to the party’s Central Committee.
“We Have We Leader!”
Bishop and the crowd triumphantly headed toward nearby Market Square in downtown St. Georges – Grenada’s most important public space. But along the way the procession changed course to Fort Rupert, the army headquarters.
The crowd funneled their way through the narrow entrance to the fort into the courtyard/parking lot in front of a two-story building.
Bishop and his inner circle of supporters assembled in the fort’s operations (ops) room located on the top floor of the building as they planned their next move. Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians congregated in the courtyard below and others packed the balcony immediately outside the ops room overlooking the parking lot. They were waiting to hear their leader speak.
Controversy surrounds the report that soldiers at the fort were disarmed and weapons were distributed to civilians in the crowd.
Aware of Bishop and his crowd of supporters at Fort Rupert and sensing imminent civil war, members of the Central Committee convened at nearby Fort Frederick and made the decision to recapture Fort Rupert.
Lt. Colonel Ewart Layne dispatched three (3) of the army’s armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Fort Rupert. A truck filled with PRA soldiers followed the convoy. Troops in full combat gear could be seen riding on top of the APCs as they made their way to Fort Rupert.
Within minutes of the APCs arrival at Fort Rupert, gunfire and explosions erupted and the fort was in a state of pandemonium. Soldiers from the APCs dismounted and fired their personal weapons and began launching grenades and rocket launchers.
There is no account that Bishop or his comrades ever fired any guns.
The order of events are unclear and opinions differ as to who shot first, but what is certain is that heavy automatic fire from the APCs showered the building and the crowd that had gathered in the courtyard below with bullets. Explosions from the PRA rocket launchers ripped a hole in the ops room as Bishop and his supporters dived to the floor for cover. The injured and the dead lay on the ground of the parking lot. Vince Noel lay bleeding on the balcony. Several cars in the parking were now on fire.
The 8 to 10 thousand people who had gathered in nearby Market Square waiting to hear Bishop speak were startled by the explosions and the thick black smoke rising from the fort. What was going on?!
Oh God, they’ve turned their guns on the masses!
— Maurice Bishop, in response to APCs opening fire at Fort Rupert
With the APCs blocking the only exit from the fort, in a desperate attempt to escape, several men, women and schoolchildren jumped over the 20-foot walls surrounding the fort on to the rocks below. Those who could, made their way out of the fort by running past the APCs and soldiers through the narrow incline back into town.
One of the most contested issues about this tragic day is who fired the first shots at Fort Rupert. Callistus Bernard who was commanding the second APC says that armed civilians fired the first shots killing all soldiers on top of the first vehicle. Survivors from inside the building claim that the arriving soldiers began firing immediately upon their arrival at the fort.
The gunfire continued for almost 10 minutes.
Finally, as the firing began to slow down, one of Bishop’s supporters from inside the ops room waved a white shirt in the hopes of a ceasefire. The survivors were ordered by soldiers to exit the ops room with their hands raised.
After being separated from the other occupants, Bishop and several of his key supporters were captured by PRA soldiers and taken to the top area of the fort where they were lined up against a wall behind an old basketball post.
After a delay of almost 45 minutes, shortly after 2:00PM, the prisoners were gunned down by a firing squad. Each of the victims had surrendered and was unarmed when killed.
Scores of people were injured on Bloody Wednesday. Several of the injured were treated at the nearby hospital; many more went into hiding.
Anywhere from ten (10) to 100 people were killed; no accurate number exists. No civilian body count is available. A number of the soldiers riding on the APCs were also shot – some killed – by unknown assailants.
The bodies of Maurice Bishop and his executed ministers have never been located or positively identified.
Victims killed execution-style at Fort Rupert (listed on a memorial plaque at Fort George):
Victims killed elsewhere on Fort Rupert (listed on a memorial plaque at Fort George):
Andy Sebastian Alexander
The following names do not appear on the memorial plaque:
PRA soldiers killed in assault at Fort Rupert:
Understandably, news of the killings was met with shock and horror from the Grenadian people and from around the world.
Later that evening, in a radio broadcast, Hudson Austin announced the formation of a new government: the RMC and informed the nation of Bishop’s death, falsely claiming that the prime minister had died in crossfire. Hudson also announced a nationwide shoot-on-sight curfew.
Bishop’s murder set the stage for the US Intervention on October 25, 1983.<< View the Entire Glossary