Retaliation. Retaliation. Retaliation.
And it did not stop Saturday. As reporters gathered at Government House for a press conference with acting Gov. Osbert E. Potter concerning the tide of violence that had spread across St. Croix, reports came in of another shooting that had just taken place on Queen Mary Highway near the red light by St. Croix Central High School – another car riddled with bullets, another young man hit by several bullets and in serious condition.
Potter, acting as governor while Gov. Kenneth Mapp is out of the territory, said authorities believed the spate of shooting taking place around St. Croix – from Estate Whim on Friday morning to Water Gut early Friday evening to the one Saturday morning, were connected.
Shortly after the news conference, Potter declared a state of emergency in the territory.
A Government House news release said Potter was appealing to the public “to dismantle the veil of secrecy and non-cooperation with law enforcement agencies, which too often hampers efforts to bring perpetrators of violent crime to justice.”
“As the vicious cycle of senseless murders and gun play permeates our territory, I appeal to the residents of this community, who are the parents, relatives, friends, and associates of the victims, to cooperate with and assist police and all law enforcement agencies in their efforts to solve these crimes. Since many of these violent crimes seem to be retaliatory in nature, we must, as a community, change the mind set of victims and their associates, who too often take it upon themselves to resolve matters on their own, as if to preserve some code of honor,” Potter was quoted in the release.
The declaration of emergency will continue until further order. The order deputizes all territorial peace officers as law enforcement officers to perform public safety functions as required by the governor. Each will report directly to the commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department or his representative.
Potter said Saturday at noon that he had been just briefed by the police and was informed that the situation was “fluid, things are still in process.” He outlined actions that were being immediately taken by the authorities:
– Checkpoints were being set up
– All police office leave was being cancelled
– Police officers were being put on 12-hour shifts.
– Assessments were being made whether the National Guard had assets that could be used to combat the problem.
Later Saturday, St. Croix Police Chief Arthur Hector Sr. issued a news release saying the island was not under curfew, but that police are on “high alert.”
“I’ve received numerous calls from residents on the island of St. Croix, who’ve questioned me as to a curfew having been established for the island. I want to take this opportunity to dispel the rumor and advise the general public that no curfew, has been put into effect for the island of St. Croix.”
“The police officers of St. Croix are on high-alert and working diligently, in conjunction with both local and federal law enforcement agencies, to maintain the safety of our island’s residents and visitors alike in the wake of recently heightened criminal activity that has caused much consternation throughout our community,” he said.
The shooting spree led to the cancelation of a planned Warm-Up J’ouvert that had been slated for Saturday morning in Christiansted.
The Whim homicide was the ninth homicide on St. Croix since the beginning of the year, the 24th in the territory.
According to the police reports, a man and woman Friday morning had gone to the Georges Christian Academy Daycare Center to retrieve their young child. While the woman went into the facility, the man sat outside in their vehicle. A male drove up to the vehicle and shot him with a high-powered weapon, then fled the scene, leaving the man lifeless in the SUV.
Then, officers responding to a 911 call at 5:16 p.m., reporting the discharge of a firearm in Estate St. George, intercepted a vehicle on West Airport Road, transporting an injured man to the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center for treatment of gunshot wounds to the foot and shoulder.
The victim of the incident did not provide police with a description of the suspect who had shot him.
Then it got really bad.
’18 Minutes of Solid Gunfire’
At 6:57 p.m. Friday neighbors in the area of D. Hamilton Jackson Terrace in Christiansted reported multiple gunshots.
Former Sen. Holland Redfield told reporters attending the press conference that he witnessed the incident. “It was 18 minutes of solid gunfire. Mothers were running out to grab their children. Three vehicles. Gunmen were firing from the passenger side of the vehicles,” Redfield said. He added the vehicles turned around in the bus shanty parking lot to spray the area again. He said shots were returned from the buildings from gunmen in windows.
Four individuals with non-life threatening wounds sustained in the shooting were transported to the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital by ambulance.
Potter said about 100 shots were fired in the incident just outside of downtown Christiansted and, “the number of victims could easily have been higher. Bullets don’t have eyes. It could’ve resulted in a serious massacre.”
Other incidents on St. Croix on Friday included an attempted robbery of Napoleon’s Pizza, a shooting in Mon Bijou and the wrongful discharge of a firearm in Estate Profit. Only in the Estate Profit incident has a suspect been arrested.
On Thursday, a young man was shot and killed near the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas and, on Friday, two men were wounded in the Hospital Grounds area of St. Thomas. These incidents do not appear to be connected to the St. Croix incidents, although, they too might involve motivations of retaliation, according to Potter.
Sens. Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet and Nellie O’Reilly attended the press conference. After the conference, Francis told the Source; “The brazenness of these acts and the retaliations have sunk to a new low.”
In a news release issued Saturday afternoon, Senate President Neville James called the spate of violence “deplorable,” and said it was a case of a “turf war.”
“The callousness and indifference towards the life of human beings is something we desperately have to improve upon, and quickly, because my island has no more lives to spare,” he said in the statement.
“I have been in constant communication with acting Gov. Osbert Potter and Police Commissioner Delroy Richards, who have informed me that there is increased police presence throughout St. Croix as a result of what they believe is a turf war that has lead to retaliatory behavior within the criminal element.”
The senator pointed to the proliferation of firearms in the territory as part of the problem.
“The community continues to be confounded at the type of weapons, the makes and models of machinery that are in the hands of our at-risk young people. Sting operations on those who are illegally selling these weapons need to be ramped up post haste,” James said.