July 17, 2008 — Retired Police Sgt. Liston T. Gumbs dedicated his life to helping people and died doing the same thing, family members and friends said Thursday as hundreds gathered at Christchurch Methodist on St. Thomas for Gumbs' funeral.
The Market Square provided shade throughout the morning to at least 100 mourners at any given moment — along with fully outfitted and decorated members of the V.I. Police Department, V.I. Retired Police Organization and American Legion who talked intently about Gumbs' life, or stood solemnly, waiting to lift his flag-draped casket into the hearse. Inside, the church was packed with hundreds more, both crying and laughing in a bittersweet celebration of Gumbs' life and tragic death.
The lack of space didn't stop mourners from entering the church. Those who couldn't find a seat stood against the walls. Once the walls were filled from one end of the room to the other, many also gathered in the church's hallway, singing, nodding and praying along with the service.
Time wasn't an issue either. Though the program finished quickly, each speaker filled the hour and a half with sweet, funny and poignant anecdotes that spoke to Gumbs' character. Others, such as Rev. Jefferson Niles, also made an open plea to the V.I. Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, which he asked to unite in an effort to bring Gumbs' killer to justice and aid all those in the territory who had perished "at the hands of criminals."
According to police reports, Gumbs was shopping in a Lindbergh Bay grocery store early last week when he observed a man talking to the cashier in an aggressive manner. As he approached, he saw the individual was holding a gun and realized it was a robbery attempt. A struggle ensued between the suspect and Gumbs, who was shot and later died from his injuries.
"The number of deaths caused by violence in this place is too high and they occur too rapidly," Niles said Thursday. "The number of perpetrators apprehended is too low, and the number of arrests occur too slowly. I encourage all those who work in law enforcement to combine their efforts and experience, to combine their resources and work together to make this territory a safer place for all of us. We cannot afford to continue to be at loggerheads with one another."
Gumbs' killer made off with only about $300, Niles said.
Throughout his life, Gumbs was a "jovial" man, whose interests ranged from farming to law enforcement, said Frank Schulterbrandt, who delivered the eulogy. After starting out his career as an electrician, Gumbs joined the Police Department in the early 1980s, where he moved up the ranks until his retirement in 1995, Schulterbrandt said.
An active church member and president of the V.I. Retired Police Organization, Gumbs was also a Korean War veteran. And he loved to laugh and smile, Schulterbrandt added.
"He loved to cook, and was always the chef at his family's social gatherings," Schulterbrandt said. "His bull foot soup was divine — and I can attest to that. He was always jovial, always helpful. Liston always assisted someone in need. And he died helping — a great hero indeed."
Some pondered what they would say to Gumbs if he were still alive.
"If I had more time, I would thank him for all the lessons he taught me when I was growing up," said Gumbs' nephew, Samuel Gumbs Jr. "If I had more time I would tell him that he lived a life many wish they could have lived. Liston ran the race — and from what I can tell from what's been said here today, and from what I've seen, he ran a pretty good race."
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