Kadiyen Illidge was every one of us.
Last weekend, with COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, she ventured out at night.
What should have been a few hours of fun for the recent college graduate ended in tragedy.
Shots rang out where she and others had assembled near King and Market streets in Frederiksted, St. Croix. A stampede to safety ensued.
Alas, Illidge wasn’t so lucky.
She sustained a gunshot wound to the back of her head, later succumbing to her injuries.
V.I. Police Department spokesperson Toby Derima would subsequently report what no parents would want to hear: “She was caught in the crossfire.”
Even more sadly, in this small community, her killer remains at large.
Friends and family described Illidge as a “quiet, loving soul,” making the violent manner in which she died all the harder to contemplate.
Illidge’s death marked the second time this year a stray bullet took the life of a bystander. In May, 19-year-old Selena Chitolie was shot and killed while driving with her mother and younger brother. She died 11 days later. Her mother, who was also shot, continues to recover.
Last month, 20-year-old Renyisha Juanita Rivera was shot to death as she drove along the Melvin H. Evans Highway in what police described as a “targeted incident.” Efrrail Jones Jr., 23, and his girlfriend, Estefani Rodriguez, 21, are now facing murder charges after video footage from nearby businesses showed the couple stalking Rivera as she drove from a location near her home and up to an area near where she was killed.
To date, the Virgin Islands has recorded 41 homicides, including four classified as vehicular deaths. The cause of death of another victim, a 22-month old child, was listed as child abuse. Of the 36 knife or gun-related killings, one was attributed to an act of self-defense with just six others solved to date.
In comparison, the British Virgin Islands has recorded two killings, the first of which occurred nine months into the year. Earlier this week, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force solved one of the cases — arresting a 37-year-old ex-convict and charging him with the Sept. 2 killing of George “Shalala” Borrows, 54, inside the victim’s home.
Last year, there were 31 homicides recorded in the Virgin Islands. That year, there were six recorded in the BVI. And two years prior, only 10 killings — the most in a decade to be recorded in that community.
There’s no simple way to gauge why crime remains on the rise in the Virgin Islands, but it’s worth noting it is happening mostly on St. Thomas and St. Croix. On St. John, homicides are few and far between.
It’s time we find out the cause behind the huge disparity if we’re to help save young men — ages 18-29 — and increasingly young women, from being felled by bullets. Misguided legislation to establish an office of gun violence won’t help, as this merely adds another level of bureaucracy to an already understaffed V.I. Police Department. The homicides not only put our safety at risk, but severely deplete resources that could be used, say, toward rehabilitation of those serving time at the Youth and Rehabilitation Center.
According to estimates by Luis and Schneider hospitals, every gunshot victim costs each facility roughly $768,000 and more than $1 million if flown off-island.
Ironically, Kadiyen Illidge died during the month victim advocates march to bring awareness to senseless gun violence. It’s our fervent hope that those with information that could help police find and arrest her killer will come forward.
Meantime, we’re heartened by St. Croix Police Chief Sidney Elskoe’s pledge to use the department’s resources “in pursuit of justice for these victims” following Illidge’s death and multiple shootings around the island. His counterpart in the St. Thomas-St. John District, Police Chief Steven Phillip, also weighed in on a spate of gun violence that occurred near the time Illidge was killed last week.
“We cannot continue to have these shootings occurring in our small community,” he said. “We can find other ways of resolving our differences.”
The V.I. Police can do its part by getting illegal guns off the streets, conducting traffic stops, and updating the public on cases solved, especially when suspects in murder cases have themselves been killed.
And while we can never bring back Illidge, Chitolie, Rivera and countless others killed, we can say ‘enough is enough’ and mean it by first being the eyes and ears of police and to speak up when needed.