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Heaven Said to Shed Tears for V.I. Youths

Nov. 1, 2004 – Participants in the first youth memorial march called the intermittent rains "tears from heaven for our lost youth." They walked from the top of King Street in Frederiksted to the public beach for ceremonies on Sunday afternoon. Despite the clouds hanging over the town, almost 100 people paid homage to 76 V.I. youths who have lost their lives in violent acts in the Virgin Islands since 1998.
The march was organized by Parents Against Violence and included individuals from churches, community organizations and school groups. Most wore white T-shirts and many carried blue and pink helium filled balloons as a symbol of remembrance.
May Adams Cornwall, one of the organizers, said the purpose of the march was to "create a visual" of the future leaders the territory has lost to senseless violence. Adams hopes this demonstration would prompt more adults to mentor youth and create youth programs.
Wentworth Browne accompanied about 20 youths from the Holy Ghost Ministries in the march. He said his church has programs for its youth members to help protect them from violence. "We have discussions. We talk to them about violence," Browne said. "We tell them there is always a time for dialogue and it's important to get in touch with authorities so situations don't get out of hand."
Sixteen-year-old, St. Croix Educational Complex student Janiesa Pompay was thoughtful as she looked over the list of names of "fallen" youth. "We need to stop the violence," she said softly, "It needs to stop."
The list, compiled by Parents Against Violence, contains the names of 39 young people from St. Thomas and 37 from St. Croix who lost their lives in violent incidents in the last six years. Fourteen of the dead are between the ages of 22 and 25, 44 between the ages of 18 and 21, 12 between the ages of 10 and 17 and six children under nine.
Throughout the program, the crowd took shelter from the rain under a gazebo on the beach. Several of the marchers wore memorial T-shirts, depicting lost loved ones.
In his address to the crowd, Elton Lewis, commissioner of police, stressed the importance of strong families. "We need to take a grip of this situation with our young people or else they will end up in the hand of the police department," Lewis said. The commissioner voiced his support of all groups who work for the betterment of youth.
Following brief remarks, the crowd moved closer to the seashore. White carnations were handed to 76 youths. They tossed a single flower in the sea as each name of a deceased youth was called.
Moses Robles, a 16-year-old Complex senior, experienced waves of emotion as she tossed her carnation into the sea. "I thought about all the lives lost from stupidity and senseless violence," she said. "We will never get them back again." Robles said she personally knows "five or six" youths who have died violently.
Debbie Johnson, organizer of the event for Parents Against Violence, announced the names of the victims over the sound system. "Words cannot express the way I feel," she said.
James and Celia Carroll traveled from St. Thomas to take part in the event. They wore Mothers Against Guns T-shirts, an organization they spearhead in St. Thomas. The Carrolls' 18-year-old son, Jason, was the innocent victim of a shooting in downtown Charlotte Amalie in 2000. "Violence is an epidemic, we must get the guns off the streets," said Celia Carroll.
Visiting Guardian Angel John Ayala, flanked by several youth volunteers wearing "I Support the Guardian Angels" T-shirts, also attended. Ayala said youths on St. Croix "have nothing to do." He said the programs his organization is planning to put in place in St. Croix would give the youth an alternative to violent behavior. Ayala was impressed with the turn out. "There is a mixture of young and old here, they came because they care," he said.
Ulric Benjamin is the president of "Men of Honor." About 12 members of the group, dressed in white polo shirts, came out in support of the activity. "We help young brothers, six to 16, to have a better life," Benjamin said. He said the group has a database of over 250 youth who they engage in discussions and take to outdoor activities. "We want to be a part of any positive change in the lives of young men and girls in the community," Benjamin said.
At the end of the ceremony the marchers released about twenty-five blue and pink balloons into the air. All eyes were turned upward following the balloons ascent. Tears were no longer symbolic ones from heaven, they were real ones in the eyes of Virgin Islanders as they remembered, once again, the lives wasted by violence.
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