Sept. 16, 2003 – As gated communities pop up in the Virgin Islands along with the rest of the country, the reality is most working-class people cannot afford to live in them and many wouldn't want to.
So, what is a single parent whose children have grown up and left home supposed to do when she is harassed, threatened with bodily harm to herself and her son, and has her home repeatedly broken into even while she is off-island recovering from surgery?
Sell the house where she raised all four of her children and move, is what Joyce Herelle was thinking on Monday, when she got the call that burglars had broken into her home for the second time in a week, this time taking her generator and items she was using to remodel her bathroom.
"And they'll be back, too," Herelle said.
The first attempted break-in was on Sept. 12. The burglars "literally tore my windows out," Herelle said.
When Herelle, who has worked for the V.I. government for 20 years, and her husband bought their home in Frangipani in 1975, the neighborhood was a typically middle class, full of average working-class people.
Her son Maximus said: "We never, never, never had these problems. We didn't even lock the doors."
But Herelle says that since the lights at the basketball court and park near her house have been turned off and the government has let streetlights go out and allowed the island's infrastructure to deteriorate, the nature of her neighborhood has changed. She said she and her neighbors have been cutting the grass at the park in an effort to discourage illegal activities there.
High unemployment also has contributed to the increase in crime, Herelle believes.
Maximus, a forklift operator for Hovensa, was recently laid off from the refinery. While waiting to be called back to work, he is trying to keep an eye out on his mother and her property.
Maximus and his brother Shaun are both worried about their mom. "I live in North Carolina," Shaun Herelle wrote in an e-mail, "and I am very concerned about my mother's well being, because she would fight them if she caught them in her house."
Last December, he said, when thieves stole her pocketbook, which contained $2,085, she tore the shirt off one of them "while he was climbing over the fence."
Herelle had come home and pulled her car into her garage when two men jumped out from behind her house, pressed an object against her back and took her purse.
Herelle said on Monday she wished she had kept the shirt for evidence. She also said she didn't report the incident to the authorities — because "when one of them had something sticking in my back, he threatened to kill my son if I called the police."
She did tell a policeman from St. Thomas, however, and he advised her to report the incident. That's also the advice Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr. offered on Monday to all residents who have been the victims of crime. Francis also recommended that residents in Frangipani form a Neighborhood Watch group. He said the homes in Frangipani are close together, which is conducive to neighbors keeping an eye on things for one another.
However, no one lives in the house next door to Herelle's, and that is a part of her problem. The home may have been a "drug house." At one time, she said, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area forces "came in with a helicopter" but, as far as she knows, nothing came of the raid. After that, she said, the occupants moved out, but people were still coming to the house every day.
Despite her fear for the safety of her son Maximus — which he does not share — Herelle and her son have both reported various incidents to police over the last year.
Francis verified on Tuesday that at least four reports of various types have been made to police about problems in or near the Herelle home. Two of them for burglary were filed in the last week, one filed in August of 2002 was about a "ferocious dog," and another last March was about general problems in the neighborhood.
Herelle and her sons believe that reporting and complaining about suspicious activities may have made her the target of criminals in the neighborhood. And now she is afraid to return to the home she has owned for nearly 30 years.
Her son Maximus recently removed anything else of value from the house to prevent further loss.
Francis said that while he understands Herelle's fears, the reality is that "if we become vulnerable to these situations, they'll hold it over our heads." Success in fighting this kind of crime will come when residents "become determined and will stop at nothing to see that perpetrators are prosecuted," he said.
Shaun Herelle agrees. "We need to know why the people in Frangipani won't stand up against the crack heads," he said. "My mother's house is not the only house in Frangipani that has been broken into, but she is the only one that has been standing up."
Francis also said, referring to the police: "Certainly we have a responsibility to protect our citizens."
The Herelles are not alone. Another woman, who grew up on St. Croix and who asked not to be identified, said: "There never used to be neighborhoods you were afraid to go into." But she added, "with all the job losses, I don't think anybody is spared."
This woman said that while she was visiting her mother on St. Croix recently for a family get-together, her brother refused to go out to a restaurant for dinner, opting instead to have the meal catered. He said he didn't want to "be held up in some parking lot at 10 o'clock at night."
Sure enough, she related, as the assembled clan sat enjoying the meal in the family home outside of Christiansted, they were serenaded by the sound of gunshots piercing the night air.
Publisher's note: Joyce Herelle has asked the Source to implore people in the community not to purchase the generator or other items that were stolen from her home — and to call the police at 911 if approached by individuals seeking to sell the stolen goods.
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