April 13, 2007 — This horrendous and senseless act has affected all of us in the Virgin Islands, were the words of Gov. John deJongh Jr. at a Thursday morning press conference at UVI's Chase Auditorium. I stand before you not only as governor, but also as a father.
In response to a crime that has shocked and stunned the territory, the governor was joined by Attorney General Vincent Frazer and Police Commissioner James McCall.
It has been confirmed that the body of a young child recovered Wednesday night in Sugar Estate was that of 12-year-old Laquina Hennis, who had been reported missing since Friday, April 6.
The medical examination of the body has not been completed as of yet, but is expected shortly. The victim was identified, in part, by her dental records.
A sixth-grader at Lockhart Elementary School, Hennis was found in an abandoned property building in which several people have been squatting, including 30-year-old Daniel Castillo, a "person of interest" whom authorities took into custody Thursday.
During the conference, DeJongh spoke directly to the victims aunt and uncle, Blanche Roumeau and police detective John Farrington, and expressed his personal condolences and those of the entire community. Let me say, we feel your pain and what you have gone through, deJongh said.
A family acquaintance, Castillo is presently in custody after being apprehended by U.S. Marshals office, but has not yet been charged in connection with Hennis' death. Contrary to news reports that he had been charged with second-degree murder, Castillo will not formally be charged until next week. He is being held in the Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas.
Castillo has a prior arrest and conviction for 3rd-degree assault of a mentally challenged woman, but was not registered as a sex-offender. He served just a fraction of a two-year sentence.
DeJongh stressed that the speedy apprehension of the suspect could not have taken place without the cooperation of many agencies and individuals. He cited McCall and the V.I. Police, Frazer and his staff, James Sullivan and the U.S. Marshals, Trace Kirk and the FBI, Carl Fleming and the St. Thomas Search and Rescue team, the Retired Police Officers Association and especially the community at large, who played a tremendous part in being able to find her.
Following the governors remarks, both McCall and Frazer reiterated praise and thanks for the communitys help and for the many leads they supplied during the investigation.
Frazer stated, This is an active investigation; and I must stress, it is ongoing. As we work through it, there are a lot of things about this case that we will not be able to discuss with the public. We ask for the public to bear with us.
Mr. Castillo was not a stranger to the Hennis family, warned Frazer. He was someone who was known. So we need to consider the people with whom our children interact. We need to pay careful attention, even to those who are known within our families, friends and associates.
In addition to recognizing the Special Operations Bureau, McCall gave special credit to Sgt. Sherrie Anne Hughes of the Juvenile Division, who was extremely instrumental since day one in looking for Miss Hennis.
He also introduced victims advocate Leslye Webbe, who is working with the family on funeral arrangements and special assistance.
Lisa Hassell-Forde, acting superintendent of schools for St. Thomas-St. John, said the district has begun to provide counseling services to the students and staff of the Lockhart School, where the victim was a student.
In a Thursday press release, Hassell-Forde said, Approximately 16 counselors and school psychologists were dispatched to Lockhart School to provide services to staff and students. A general assembly was held with intermediate students and breakout sessions for smaller groups and individuals followed. We will continue to provide services as needed to assist all affected by this tragic situation.
The molestation or assault on anyone is a grievous act in itself, but to fatally hurt an innocent child is an act of pure unadulterated depravity, said acting Education Chief Lauren Larsen in a news release. Each and every resident of these islands should be outraged and feel victimized by this situation. Laquina is one of our own.
The Source will provide further developments as they become available.
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