Stop the violence

Stop the violence

Andrea Hamilton, mother of 14-year-old murder victim Aaron Nicolas Hamilton Ashby, leads the Tutu contingent of the Reclaim our Village march Sunday as they pass the Virgin Islands Legislature building on St. Thomas. The marchers were joined at Emancipation Garden by a second group that began at the Crown Bay Center in Sub Base. Aaron Ashby, and his older cousin, were clearing trash in the area of Tutu Hi-Rise housing community on July 9 when they were slain. Since Friday, shootings have occurred on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, leaving a 21-year-old female bystander dead and at least seven others wounded. Page 4

A string of shootings on Friday and Saturday left one bystander dead and multiple wounded across the territory, adding to an already raging gun violence epidemic that has taken hold in the Virgin Islands.

St. Croix shootings

The first few shootings occurred within a short window on St. Croix and led to five victims: one fatality and four injured.

At around 10:18 p.m., the V.I. Police Department was notified of gunfire near the corner of King and Market streets in downtown Frederiksted. Upon arrival, police found a woman with a gunshot wound to the head.

The woman, identified as 21-year-old Kadiyen Illidge of Sion Hill, was taken to Luis Hospital where she died of her injuries. Police spokesman Toby Derima said Illidge was not the target of the shooting.

“She was caught in the crossfire,” he said.

At around 11:49 p.m., police were notified that another gunshot victim was being treated at Luis Hospital for wounds to his mid-section. The victim stated he was shot while in the Smithfield area in Frederiksted. Police believe this shooting was linked to the earlier one near King Street.

Around the same time, police received additional calls from the hospital regarding two more gunshot victims. Both men, who were listed in stable condition, said they were in Kingshill when they were shot by an unknown shooter.

At 11:53 p.m., another man walked into the hospital with a gunshot wound and told officers he was also in Kingshill when he was shot. He was listed in stable condition.

All shootings are currently under investigation. Derima said he could not confirm whether the other victims were targets or just caught in crossfire.

“That information is part of the ongoing investigation,” he said.

St. Croix Police Chief Sidney Elskoe condemned the incidents in a news release, stating “we will use the department’s resources in pursuit of justice for these victims.”

St. Thomas shooting

On Saturday, at about 5:35 p.m., officers responded to reports of gunfire near Coki Point Road on St. Thomas. Upon arrival, police found three gunshot victims, all of whom were taken to Schneider Hospital and listed in stable condition. The shooting is under investigation.

St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Steven Phillip denounced the incident, urging residents to stop the violence.

“We cannot continue to have these shootings occurring in our small community. We can find other ways of resolving our differences,” he said.

St. John shooting

On Friday, at 5:50 p.m. police apprehended Rashad Creque, 24, of Contant, for allegedly opening fire at another individual. Creque, a Viya employee, was in a Viya vehicle when he led officers on a pursuit around St. John. After a brief attempt to flee officers, Creque was apprehended with a firearm in his possession. No injuries were reported.

Creque was charged with illegal discharge of a firearm and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Bail for Creque was set at $50,000, which he was not able to post. He was turned over to the custody of the Corrections Bureau pending his advice of rights hearing.

A statement from Viya confirmed that Creque was a Viya employee and was apprehended after the unauthorized use of one of its vehicles. Viya indicated that it will continue to cooperate with the police in the investigation.

Territorywide scourge

Friday’s death brings the territory’s 2020 homicide toll to 41: 22 on St. Croix, 18 on St. Thomas and one on St. John.

During the same period in 2019, there were 31 homicides: 17 on St. Croix, 14 on St. Thomas and none on St. John.

In comparison, there has been a 29% increase in homicides for 2020. Roughly 65% of the homicide victims have been among the age group of 18-29, according to police.

On Friday, V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor testified before the Legislature on protocols implemented to curtail gun violence in the territory. These included more community engagement, greater cooperation with federal and other local law enforcement agencies and the use of technology to pinpoint crime hotspots.

Lawmakers, like Sen. Kenneth Gittens, voiced concern over the department’s lack of a comprehensive deployment strategy to better manage its manpower and resources.

Senate Vice President Myron Jackson called for a renewed push of his legislation to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention. The office is intended to be a coordinating agency for public, private and nonprofit entities, which in turn would serve to identify underlying causes and traumas of gun violence, as well as strategies to keep neighborhoods safe.

“Whether you vote for it or not, we need a comprehensive approach to gun violence in the territory and the thousands of families impacted by gun violence deserve a response from our government as it relates to the death of their loved ones,” Jackson said.

The local hospitals estimate that every gunshot victim costs each facility roughly $768,000 and more than $1 million if flown off-island.

— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email ajrao@dailynews.vi.