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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Jan. 3, 2002 – The U.S. Virgin Islands recorded 30 homicides in 2001, giving the territory a per capita rate about five times the national average.
The rate for the Virgin Islands, with a population of about 110,000, was about 27 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The national rate was 5.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 and remained at about the same level for the first six months of 2001, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. Final national figures for 2001 are not yet available.
The Virgin Islands has recorded between 18 and 37 homicides each year since 1994.
Of the 30 homicides in 2001, 18 were on St. Thomas and 12 were on St. Croix, while St. John recorded none. With a population of about 50,000, St. Thomas had a homicide rate of nearly 36 per 100,000 inhabitants, nearly seven times the national average.
Jamaica, widely viewed as a violence-ridden nation, had a 2001 homicide rate of about 43 per 100,000 people.
Ernesto Vanterpool, 87, lost his 50-year-old daughter, Ernestine Vanterpool, in February when she died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Sitting in the living room of his home in Tutu, he holds a tiny angel Christmas tree ornament, explaining that it used to be his daughter's favorite. Christmas was difficult this year without her, Vanterpool said.
Sitting in front of his home is the bullet-riddled car in which his daughter was found dead at Lindqvist Beach. He says he has not yet been able to muster the energy to sell the car and dispose of the rest of his daughter's small estate.
"This has been hard, very hard," Vanterpool said, adding that he remembers a time when anyone could walk the streets of St. Thomas without fear.
"This used to be a place where you could walk in the night when the moon was full, with the scent of jasmine, and the only thing you worried about was the jumbies, the spirits," Vanterpool said. "Now this place is terrible, all these guns everywhere."
Like 14 more of the 18 homicides recorded in 2001 on St. Thomas, his daughter's case remains unsolved. Police have made arrests in eight of the 12 killings on St. Croix.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said he believes most of the homicides stem from disputes between members of rival posses from different neighborhoods. The diputes turn to bloodshed, he said, and then one gang retaliates against the other, creating a cycle of violence.
Police detectives constantly run into the problem that people in the community will not come forward with information about killings, Stridiron said.
Police cannot solve the cases without help from residents, he said, and because so few murder cases on St. Thomas have been solved, he believes that a few people kill with a feeling of impunity. "We have a few homicidal individuals in this community," he said. "These guys believe they are invincible."
V.I. government officials took steps in 2001 to address the territory's chronic high rate of violent crime. The Senate passed and the governor has just signed into law legislation toughening the penalties for felons caught carrying illegal firearms. Local prosecutors have joined with the U.S. Attorney's Office to implement a program modeled on the Project Exile program in Richmond, Va., which has been touted as an effective tool to reduce the number of illegal firearms on the street.
In November, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull named Novelle Francis, 36, then deputy police chief for St. Croix, as the territory's new police chief. Turnbull gave Francis a mandate to cut violent crime by 20 percent.
Francis had gained a reputation on St. Croix for trying to improve police-community relations, and he has urged residents to come forward with information that can help detectives solve the outstanding homicide cases.
"Crime is everybody's problem," Francis said. "When any crime is committed, there are two or three or more people who know what happened. We need them to help, without fear of reprisal."

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