While many said the turnout at Thursday’s J’ouvert celebrations was the best it’s been in the last few years, the fun was short-lived. Violence broke out in the early morning hours, and V.I. police quickly shut down the event and asked everyone to go home.
For many Virgin Islanders, the morning tramp down the Waterfront on St. Thomas is more than just a chance to back your favorite band. It gives friends and family members some time to reconnect, gives residents the chance to show off their best costumes or outfits and, of course, it puts young and old alike on the biggest dance floor in the territory.
"It’s beautiful out here," said St. Thomas resident Kenny Donovan. "I mean, we’re out here having fun, everyone is here enjoying themselves and that’s what it’s all about. And there’s a pretty good turnout this year, so that’s always good."
Cool Session Brass was at the head of the route this year, which begins near the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and winds its way up Veterans Drive and down the Waterfront. Revelers surrounding the band’s truck were waiting until about 7 a.m. for the party to get under way, but once the music began, the crowd tightened and started dancing.
"J’ouvert is always about having a good time and I’m definitely having fun, getting a lot of good pictures and I’ve even been meeting a lot of people I haven’t met before that I know through Facebook," said resident Tito Robles. "There’s a lot of people out here, even more than usual, and I love it."
But Cool Session, or any of the bands participating this year, didn’t get a chance to make much headway as the procession made its way up the route because, around 9 a.m., police patrolling the event began making their way through the crowds, saying that J’ouvert was being stopped because of shootings that had broken out in the vicinity of the Frenchtown post office.
While the shots were not heard further up the route, the blaring sirens of an ambulance traveling west on Veterans Drive signaled trouble. The first ambulance was eventually followed by two more, along with several police units and a tow truck.
As the crowd started to break up, at least one woman was seen crying and was led up the street by friends and family. Leaving J’ouvert, many people spoke about a shooter that had fired into the crowd.
In a news release Thursday afternoon, the V.I. Police Department said three individuals were shot during the event and were taken to Schneider Regional Medical Center for treatment. Detectives at the scene said the victims were 23, 25 and 27 years old and that a preliminary investigation had revealed that a fight had broken out in the crowd dancing behind one of the bands.
"The wounded were taken from the scene by ambulances that were stationed nearby," the press release said.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Gov. John deJongh Jr. denounced the shootings and said that at least one of the victims was critically injured.
"It is beyond basic understanding and unacceptable that a person would pick up a firearm and shoot into a crowded event," deJongh said.
The governor said he met Thursday with V.I. Police Commissioner-designate Rodney Querrard and other police brass, including the department’s intelligence unit director, Ray Martinez, to discuss the incident.
"I was assured by the leadership of the department that today’s shooting was not a random act," the governor said in the release. "The intelligence gathered in the case suggests that the shooting stemmed from ongoing differences between two neighborhood groups who used the cover of the large crowd at J’ouvert to level their retaliatory acts."
DeJongh added the district’s police chief and deputy police chief also met Thursday afternoon to put together a strategy for the deployment of more officers at the Carnival Village, the two parades and Friday’s Carnival horse races.
"The remaining events of Carnival 2013 are important to us, but the safety of the residents of the Virgin Islands and the many visitors on island for this weekend’s climax of Carnival is our utmost concern and priority,” deJongh said. “If it becomes necessary to curtail or cancel a Carnival event to ensure the safety and well-being of the community, such a decision will be made."
Meanwhile the governor also signed an executive order Thursday mandating that bars and nightclubs stop serving alcohol at 4 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.
J’ouvert was also stopped early in 2011 after multiple fights broke out along the route.