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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsMother Charged with Murder of Nine-Year-Old

Mother Charged with Murder of Nine-Year-Old

Anyah Smith, 32, was arrested Monday and charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Jacqueda Issac, 9. (Photo courtesy VIPD)

Mourning and outrage over the killing of a nine-year-old girl Saturday intensified on St. Thomas as police announced the arrest of her mother on murder charges Monday.

Anyah Smith, 32, was arrested midday and charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Ja’Qeada Isaac, who paramedics found lifeless near the Vitraco Mall on Rumer Road at 5:22 a.m. Saturday. Police had initially said Issac drowned when Smith threw herself and the child into the sea in an apparent suicide attempt. They later retracted that account but did not further explain the nature of the killing or how the girl came to be by the shopping center, 400 feet or more from the harbor.

Smith was remanded to the Bureau of Corrections pending an advice of rights hearing.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. addressed the killing of Ja’Qeada, a student at the Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School, in a weekly briefing Monday.

“This weekend, we had another tragic incident on the island of St. Thomas where a mother attempted to take her life and the life of her nine-year-old. Unfortunately, she was successful in taking the life of her nine-year-old,” Bryan said. “I got a call from the commissioner of Education who visited the nine-year-old’s class. Imagine the dismay of those students.”

Insular Superintendent Stefan Jürgen said the Virgin Islands Education Department would provide support to both students and faculty at the school.

“Intervention services, including counseling support services, will be made available to aid individuals in coping with this profound loss. We understand the importance of providing resources and assistance during such challenging times, and we are committed to ensuring that those affected have access to the support they need,” Jürgen said.

Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington urged parents and students to seek assistance, talk to a professional or simply talk to each other.

“Our hearts ache with the news of this devastating loss, and our thoughts are with all those affected during this incredibly difficult time,” Wells-Hedrington said. “Additionally, we urge the community to come together in support of one another, offering compassion, empathy, and understanding during this time of mourning.”

Bryan said Smith suffered from a hitherto unknown mental illness and asked Virgin Islanders to better look after each other.

“Obviously, she’s someone who is very troubled mentally. It just goes as an example of how we have to pay attention to one another and be our brother’s keeper,” he said. “But if you don’t know and nobody notices, it’s just a cry in the dark. Let’s continue to be supportive of one another as we go along this trail. I mean, it’s a tragic event for all Virgin Islanders for this to happen.”

Some have pushed back on Bryan’s message, noting many, including police, suspected Smith struggled with some form of mental illness. She’d been arrested in 2010 on aggravated assault and disturbing the peace by making threats charges that were eventually dropped.

At least two other intra-family violent crimes on St. Thomas were attributed in part to mental illness in recent weeks — leaving a young daughter hospitalized and a father dead.

Mohammed Salem, 34, allegedly stabbed his father, Hakem Salem, 69, to death March 5 at their Estate Lerkenlund home. Court officials were arranging a psychiatric evaluation for Salem Monday.

On Wednesday, Willichia Hughes, 37, allegedly repeatedly tased her minor daughter. Hughes, who allegedly told police she may suffer from Bipolar Disorder, was charged with child abuse, assault, parental neglect, and other charges. She’d been charged with disturbing the peace in 2016 and contempt of court in 2015.

In another investigation, police may have thwarted a serious incident earlier this month when a St. Thomas man was charged with stalking and allegedly found in possession of a handgun, ammunition, ski masks, and body armor. Police raided the Lillie Gade home of Leon Swan March 8 after a yet-unrevealed disturbance of the peace where shots were fired.

Swan’s apartment had limited electricity as he had run extension cords from neighboring properties. According to court records, police found a black Kevlar helmet, a black bullet-proof vest and a green camouflage bullet-proof vest, several black ski masks, and a handgun with a partially obliterated serial number. He was charged with stalking, domestic violence, illegal possession of a firearm and body armor, discharge of a firearm, and disturbance of the peace. His social media page makes frequent references to firearms, pirate iconography, animals of prey, and the U.S. military. A Superior Court judge set bail at $50,000 on Monday.

A social media post by Leon Swan, accused of stalking and illegal possession of weapons and body armor. (Facebook photo)

The territory does not have its long-promised dedicated psychiatric care facility, Bryan acknowledged. Creating a permanent mental health treatment center remains in the planning stage — Seaview on St. Thomas and an Anna’s Hope site on St. Croix — he said, citing the need for federal and local approvals.

“We’ve tried to add resources every day but the reality is we are stretched to do so. We’ve tried to make agreements with the Black psychologists of the United States [Association of Black Psychologists]. We tried all kinds of programs. It’s just hard to find people to do this kind of work. And in this case, we had no record of this psychiatric situation with the young lady. There was nothing the government would be able to do. I think we have supported this cause as much as a small community can but really the breadth of this is not just the Virgin Islands; it’s beyond us,” Bryan said. “We have a constant open application for social workers in Education as well as for Human Services. It’s not a money problem; it’s a people problem. Where do you find the people to do these things?”

Bryan said the USVI government spends more than $10 million annually caring for psychiatric patients and other people with disabilities.

“So we don’t want to make it seem like the government does nothing,” he said, adding that if someone doesn’t want help and is not an immediate threat to themselves or others, there’s not much the government can do.

“They’re not stray dogs. They’re human beings. And the fact is, as long as they are not a threat to themselves or anybody else, we cannot do anything,” Bryan said. “The reality of the situation is, if that person doesn’t want to go into a facility, there’s nothing we can do.”

From 1994 through most of the first quarter of the 21st Century, the U.S. Virgin Islands was under a federal consent decree to stop housing people found not guilty by reason of insanity in the Golden Grove detention center.

Ja’Qeada Isaac’s death marks the fourth homicide of 2024 on St. Thomas, and the sixth in the territory, according to the Source Homicide List.*

*The Source Homicide List is a chronological log of the homicides recorded in 2024 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as reported by the VIPD. Cases are broken down by island. While this listing is based on VIPD reports, the Source does not include suicides or vehicular homicides in its listing, which the police and some other media do. This can lead to a discrepancy in the number of incidents reported.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to correct the name of Ja’Qeada Isaac. Initial reports incorrectly spelled her name as Jacqueda Issac.

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