Crucians mark National Murder Victims' Remembrance Day with somber ceremony
Published: September 26, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Francisco Budhoo Jr., was only 9 years old when he heard the news last summer that his father had been gunned down in the streets.
On Wednesday evening, he joined millions of people across the nation, along with dozens of children in the community, who also know that loss as he remembered his father on National Murder Victims' Remembrance Day at the Sunny Isle amphitheater.
Francisco, a young man who enjoys learning tae kwon do, playing video games and watching baseball, said losing his father has probably changed his life from what it could have turned out to be.
"I'm never going to know now how things would have been with him around, because somebody killed him," he said.
Dressed in a bright red T-shirt with five photographs of his father on the front and one on the back, Francisco looked up from under his red baseball cap for just a minute before dropping his eyes again to his shirt.
"This is my favorite shirt," he said. "I wear it so that I can remember him. Some days it makes me really sad, but some days I smile when I look at the pictures."
Francisco said he knew of his father's troubled past and that he had been to prison a number of times during his lifetime, but he was still a good man.
"Whenever he was not in jail, he used to have me with him, everywhere, all the time," Francisco said. "We would watch the game or go to the arcade and then go get Armstrong's Ice Cream."
Francisco said that since his father's death, he has wondered why he was killed and wishes he could change the world and bring him back, but instead he just tries to be a good boy and hope that the violence will end.
"A lot of people get killed before my father, and a lot more people died after him," Francisco said. "I just wish they would stop the violence so our future could be good."
Claudia Ceballos also wishes that the violence would end, not only for herself but also for her 3-year-old daughter, whose father, Vincent "Sensie" Johnson, was gunned down in a bushy area near Marley housing community in March 2010, when the baby was only four months old. "My daughter never even got a chance to know her father, and he never got to enjoy her," she said.
Ceballos looked at her innocent daughter running in the nearby playground and shook her head in disbelief.
"It sometimes feels like a dream, because I never imagined that this would be my life, having to raise her alone because someone had killed him," she said.
While the event is now in its sixth year nationwide and in the territory and her baby's father has been dead for three years, Ceballos said this is the first year she had attended the Murder Victims' Remembrance Ceremony, hoping to help bring some closure.
"Nobody was arrested. They believe the crime may have been solved through street justice, but we don't know, and as my baby gets older, she has been asking me questions about her father and it is the hardest thing for me, 'cause I don't know what to say," Ceballos said as tears welled in her eyes.
Some of the more than 100 other people at the ceremony were also there for closure, but others were there to express anger, frustration and sadness in addition to love and remembrance for their loved one.
The Women's Coalition and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Counsel spearheaded the event and pinned attendees with black and red ribbons.
Many who turned out were wearing the theme colors of red and black or shirts with pictures of their loved ones on front. They wrote note cards that were placed on a message board and printed each person's name on a red paper heart, which was raised as the list of almost 500 murder victims was scrolled up on the "Remembrance Wall."
During the ceremony, family members shared poems, dance, songs and words of encouragement.
Jaslene Williams, whose brother, V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell Williams, was murdered in 2001, was present and wearing a remembrance shirt. She told the crowd to never lose hope. She said she waited 11 years for an arrest in the case, and last year, when five people were arrested, she felt some relief. Now, waiting for a trial and final disposition of the case feels like some justice is being served, she said.
Other family members represented dozens of other victims and expressed the hurt with which they have been left. Some encouraged the families to not harbor anger and allow it to fester and to remain positive and prayerful that the violence will soon end and that justice will arrive for them.
With the latest killing - 27-year-old Avery Martin, who was gunned down in Hospital Ground, St. Thomas - being tallied Tuesday night, just hours before the start of the remembrance event, there have been 23 murders reported in the territory this year, with 11 on St. Croix and 12 on St. Thomas.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.