Come Monday morning, the first item on the agenda at Family Resource Center will be laying plans to work with other community agencies and perhaps the government to create a safe, well-lighted walkway between Tutu Park Mall and Four Winds Plaza.
The rape of a 14-year-old girl last Thursday evening is the catalyst.
About the same time participants in the sixth annual "Take Back the Night and Shine the Light on Domestic Violence" demonstration were finishing their march in downtown St. Thomas that evening, the teen-ager was stalked, terrorized and raped on a narrow, unlighted path that is a popular shortcut between the two mid-island shopping centers.
"We didn't hear about it until the next morning," said Family Resource Center executive director Michal Rhymer, whose organization sponsors the annual "Take Back the Night" marches on St. Thomas. "As usual, we were very angry. Every time we hear a report like this, especially when it involves a child, it inflames us. We continue to see perpetrators target young teens, and our community must never be relaxed. We always have to be on the lookout for our children."
It's obvious that people, and especially young people, are going to take the shortcut between the two shopping areas, Rhymer said. The problem is that the path is overgrown with bush and unlighted.
"We strongly believe those two malls should be connected, and that there needs to be a lighted, safe and secure path put there," she said.
The area has been the scene of at least two other incidents of violence recently, Rhymer noted. A man was found dead behind Four Winds and a 19-year-old woman's body was found at the nearby Midas Muffler location. "There have been fights involving school kids there, too," she said.
According to the police, the victim reported the incident at about 7:25 p.m. Thursday. She told officers that she and her cousin, a 17-year-old girl, were taking the shortcut when a man about 5' 7" and wearing a black ski mask approached them from behind. The girl said her cousin ran away, and she dropped to the ground to try to hide.
She said the masked man pulled her behind a garbage bin located behind the Insomnia nightclub and raped her. According to a release from the Police Department, the girl "also told the police that at one point, when the man saw the police in the area, he said he had a gun and would kill her if she screamed."
Rhymer said Family Resource Center, which provides counseling, emergency shelter and court advocacy for victims of violent crimes including domestic abuse and sexual assault, will "try to find out who owns that property" where the path lies, and "try to elicit government and civic support" to create a safe walkway.
"We'll be trying to tap the Rotary groups and the Lions to get community involvement," she said.
Rhymer said her advice to young people and their parents is "Please remain alert. We must be vigilant. We do not want to cause a frenzy and panic, but we have a rapist out there, or maybe more than one."