Event tonight to honor scores of Virgin Islanders killed in recent years
Published: September 25, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. CROIX - Today, residents of the Virgin Islands will join millions of people throughout the nation in observance of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
The Women's Coalition of St. Croix is spearheading events in the territory, which is now in its sixth year, and said that the day is designated to honor the memories of murder victims and to recognize the impact that homicides have on surviving family members and loved ones.
Sheleene Gumbs, crisis counselor with the Women's Coalition, said the murder rate in the territory has been climbing for several years now and, the territory consistently feels the effect when someone's life is snuffed out by a gun, a knife or other violent means.
"Almost weekly, we pick up the newspaper or turn on the radio and television and hear of another murder in our community. It never ends there. It is usually the beginning for the family of that person, because their life is over," she said.
Gumbs spoke just a few hours before Avery Martin, 27, was killed Tuesday night in Hospital Ground, St. Thomas.
Twenty-three murders have been reported in the territory this year, 12 on St. Croix and 11 on St. Thomas.
Police have still not classified the deaths of Kassaun Baptiste, 38, and Jose Baptiste, 24, whose partially decomposed bodies were found in their Estate Whim, St. Croix home on May 1. On Monday, police said the autopsy and most testing has been completed, but they are still investigating and have not come to a definite conclusion in the deaths.
Gumbs said hundreds of friends and family circles have been grieving for years, and anyone who has lost a friend or family to violence is encouraged to attend the remembrance ceremony at 5:30 p.m. at Sunny Isle Shopping Center's amphitheater. The day is being observed in the St. Thomas-St. John District, but no events are being held.
Everyone coming to the event is asked to bring a picture and wear a T-shirt or something to help identify their lost loved one. Gumbs said attendees also can wear the Day of Remembrance colors, which are black and red.
Gumbs said that the Women's Coalition has held speak-outs, forums, church services, Government House receptions and other events throughout the years to remember victims of violence and has tried to always incorporate the wall of names.
"We have a list of 456 names of victims from recent history that we will post, and we want to have representation from all of those people," she said.
"Those who do not have shirts or pictures can get one of our hearts that they can display when their loved one's name is shown on the wall," she said.
The remembrance will feature songs, dance, poetry and words of encouragement as the collective effort is made to help each other heal.
After the initial shock of the death and the news headlines fade away, Gumbs said, family members still are left to struggle with their loss.
"That is when so many people become overwhelmed and go through the cycles of grief, devastation, anger, despair and depression," she said.
Gumbs said every person on the island knows someone who has been affected in some way or another by senseless acts of violence that have cost someone their life.
"The murder victim's family suffers, but the family of the perpetrator also suffers, because they have lost that person also to a life behind bars," she said.
For more information, call the Women's Coalition of St. Croix at 773-9272 or visit the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims or the Women's Coalition pages on Facebook.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.