ST. CROIX — On Friday, V.I. residents will pause with the rest of the nation in observance of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
This year’s commemoration will mark the 13th year since Congress designated Sept. 25 as a day to honor the memories of murder victims and to recognize the impact such violence has on surviving family members and the community.
St. Thomas ceremony
Family Resource Center Development Director Vernon Araujo said a brief ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday on the St. Thomas waterfront will observe social distancing guidelines.
“Because of everything relative to the pandemic, it’s going to be simple, but still something we all thought was very necessary,” he said. “We will cast a single rose into the harbor in remembrance of every murder victim we have seen for the year.”
He added the visual is “always impactful and sadly there have been years where between the day we order the flowers and the day we pick them up we have to add at least one to the count.”
As of Sept. 14, there have been 40 homicides recorded territorywide.
To limit attendance, the ceremony will stream live on the center’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FRCUSVI. Viewers will be able to comment and post memories.
“We are a small community, so events like these bring a sense of warmth and support for the family that their loved one is still being remembered in death,” Araujo said. “It is important that we send the message that we are against these murders, we want to see this murder rate decrease but in the meantime, we have to be present, we have to be supportive and continue to work on breaking the cycle.”
St. Croix ceremony
On St. Croix, the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix will not host an in-person event but is inviting those affected by murders in the community to post memories on a special Facebook page at fb.com/ndrmv.vi.
Executive Director Clema Lewis said violence and murders touch everyone.
“We are all affected by the violence that ends lives in our community. We wanted this year’s Remembrance Day to focus on healing from the pain and grief — we’ve had so much of it and we have so much hurt that is lingering,” she said.
Sheelene Gumbs, a crisis counselor with the agency, has the task of updating The Wall of Remembrance — a visual presentation of the names of the more than 900 people murdered on St. Croix since 1974.
“This is always hard for me and sadly every year we have to add more names — and these are not just names, they are people and lives lost,” she said.
“Based on statistics, every murder closely affects at least 25 people and in this small community and based on how young many of the victims are, it is more than that. Hundreds of young people are being left to mourn family and friends.” The community has become desensitized and violence and murders have become commonplace, she said.
“We see it happening before our eyes with how people are so callous in posting videos of murder victims before they are even cold and it is sickening,” she said. “We no longer hold a life as a sacred gift — nobody wants to speak out and these are the things that fuel the continued violence in our communities.”
Gumbs said people are turning a blind eye to violence and murders until it hits close to them.
“By then it is too late,” she said. “Our inactions are what is contributing to the culture of silence, it is what is the catalyst that is literally pulling the trigger and killing the Virgin Islands. I don’t think it’s too late to turn these things around.”
Victim advocates are encouraging everyone to wear black or red or any combination of the colors on Friday in honor of murder victims.
“The colors are symbolic of how we are being affected,” representing the darkness and the bloodshed associated with killings, Gumbs said.
For more information call the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix at 340-773-9272 or Family Resource Center at 340-776-3966.