A handful of taxi drivers sat talking Tuesday morning near the intersection across the street from Vendor's Plaza, mulling over the unusual calm that had settled over downtown St. Thomas.
Usually, with a ship in port, the area was buzzing, but on Tuesday, only handfuls of tourists moved about, some sitting in Emancipation Garden or milling up and down Main Street, many with a copy of a newspaper in their hands.
"Murder, murder, murder," one taxi driver said loudly, as he unsuccessfully tried to offer one passing family a ride to the beach. "That's all everyone is talking about. Well, we need this [tourism] industry, too. It's all we have to survive on."
Similar conversations could be heard all over the island Tuesday, as many residents thought about the territory's economic future in the wake of a gruesome double homicide at Coki Point Beach that left two people dead -- including a 14-year-old tourist whose family was traveling aboard the Carnival Victory. One of the most common questions heard on the street or asked over the radio airwaves was whether the cruise ships, the territory's lifeblood, would be pulling out now that reports of Monday's incident have hit the international media.
At this point, no one has said that. And speaking from her office early Tuesday morning, Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said she would remain positive as she prepared to resume the steady stream of calls to the cruise lines that began Monday afternoon after the shootout erupted.
"We have to be positive as we look at how we move through this horrible incident, and see how we can use it to make the Virgin Islands a better place, both for our residents and our visitors," she said. "So all the discussions between yesterday and today with the cruise lines, and all of our partners, is focused on what's at stake and what we have to do. We have to work closely with everyone, all of our partners right now, to make sure everyone is comfortable."
But while there's no talk of pulling out, Carnival has since suspended "all excursions that include the Coki Beach area until further notice," according to a statement released Monday. Carnival is not releasing any additional information at this point, and has not given an indication on how long the suspension will be in effect, or how talks are going between the company and local officials.
However, Coral World owner Trudie Prior said Tuesday she was told by Carnival that tours would be suspended indefinitely, while Princess Cruise Lines has said they would not be coming to Coral World for at least four visits before revisiting the issue. Prior added that Norwegian Cruise Line is currently in talks with its legal department.
"Business was terrible," she said Tuesday. "We have had cancellations from hotels as well for activities, and people have been asking for their money back on tours that were booked in advance."
Prior has long been pleading with the government to clean up Coki Point and address everything from the criminal activity near the beach to the barkers that frequent the area.
"Coki has not gotten the kind of government attention it needs, and I can only hope that what has happened in the last 24 hours is going to move them to take an aggressive stance and do what they need to do to make sure that it's not viewed as a place to avoid," Prior said.
As far as anyone heard Tuesday, most of the government's top officials were booked up in meetings -- either talking strategy with one another or with representatives from the cruise lines.
Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr. said early Tuesday that the department was working on a strategic safety and security plan in anticipation for another meeting with Carnival that afternoon.
All the usual strategies, such as saturated patrols and routine traffic stops, will continue to be in effect, but police will also be using information they've gathered to monitor and track the "associates" of suspected criminals, along with some of the individuals working behind the scenes. Gang activity and retaliatory attacks are what police have said is contributing to the increase in violent deaths throughout the territory, so Francis said the officers are going to try and cut that off at the source.
"When something like a murder happens, the retaliation goes back and forth continuously to resolve these issues, so we want to take action immediately to minimize that," he said Tuesday. "We're going to be out there and in these people's faces -- we're going to respond to every case and try to bring some calm to this situation."
A new set of officers will be deployed at the end of the week, and patrols will also increase in "violence-prone" neighborhoods, Francis said. He added that a number of federal agencies have been in contact since the incident to offer help, and are being built into the strategic plan.
"We want to show that we've got a handle on the situation," he said Tuesday. "We want to show everyone that we're here to protect this community. We've made an arrest -- hopefully that makes an impact."