June 2, 3004 – The usually crowded Education Complex corridors were empty on Wednesday, students having been told to stay home the day after 19-year-old senior Jahmalie Henry was gunned down in front of hundreds of his schoolmates.
Beginning at 10 a.m., teachers, administrators, staff and resource professionals held a two-hour meeting that included reports from police officials and crisis counselors. High School Principal Kurt Vialet called the meeting to plan grief counseling sessions and to put additional safety measures in place for the last days of the school year.
Vialet said afterward that the meeting was "very constructive." He said school will resume on Thursday with a general assembly for all students. Afterward, the young people will receive grief counseling from the Education Department's Crisis Management Team.
Final exams, which had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday, will instead be given on Friday and Monday.
Senior events, culminating with commencement exercises on June 14, will proceed as planned. "We will not punish any student by canceling senior activities," Vialet said. "It was outsiders [who] caused these problems."
The principal pledged that Complex will overcome the tragedy. "We are going to come to grips with this," he said. "We will move on. This is a good school."
Vialet plans to make individual and group counseling available until the end of the school year. A uniformed police officer and a squad car will be stationed at the school for the remainder of the school year.
What's Known and What's Believed
According to police, shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, students from Central High School arrived at the Complex campus in two vehicles and stopped in the vicinity of the school parking lot. They confronted Jahmalie and exchanged words and a fight ensued. A 17-year-old CHS student who had a sawed-off shotgun hidden in his book bag shot Jahmalie once in the back left shoulder area, police said.
Jahmalie was pronounced dead at Juan F. Luis Hospital at 4:06 p.m.
School monitors apprehended the alleged assailant and his accomplices and held them until police arrived. Police seized a sawed-off shotgun and a .25-caliber pistol at the scene.
The 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder and remanded to the St. Croix Youth Rehabilitation Facility. His companions also were arrested and were being held on a variety of weapons charges, police said on Wednesday.
Selah Macedon, 19, of Estate Golden Rock and Winston Venner, 22, of the Harbor View housing community were charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm with an obliterated serial number and unauthorized presence on school campus. They were remanded to the Golden Grove Correctional Facility. Another CHS student, a 17-year-old minor, was arrested for possession of an unlicensed firearm and unauthorized presence on a school campus.
Police also seized a white pickup truck and a gray Suzuki Vitarra, the two vehicles the suspects drove to the shooting site. According to the school monitors who apprehended the suspects as they attempted to flee the scene, one was driving the pickup while the other three were in the gray SUV.
Police have not confirmed a motive for the shooting, but there is reason to believe that the shooting was in retaliation for an incident that occurred at Randall "Doc" James Race Track during the Memorial Day races. Several individuals reportedly were involved in a fight over the ownership of a gold chain.
Commissioner, Senate President Comment
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael expressed anguish over the shooting death of Jahmalie Henry in a release issued Wednesday. "I am shocked and very saddened by the incident," she said, noting that the tragedy has also impacted the lives of the alleged assailant and the families and loved ones of both, "who are now left behind to try and make sense out of something that should never have occurred."
Michael said that "two futures have been irreversibly cut short by a senseless act of violence [provoked] by emotion, the lack of self-control and ability to reason." She added: "The most tragic thing about this entire incident, and in fact the most revealing, is the total disregard that our young people are displaying for human life their own and the lives of others."
Senate President David Jones in a release on behalf of the Legislature said that "this most recent senseless act of violence continues to be a source of great concern for our community, and in order to bring about an effective change we have to work together."
He said the Senate recently appropriated additional revenues to the agencies responsible for providing a safer environment for all children attending V.I. schools. However, "the mechanism for change lies in an effective parent-teacher association and in consistent parental involvement in day-to-day student activities," he added.
Community Commitments and Coping
Parents of hundreds of students who witnessed Tuesday's shooting are trying to deal with the traumatic effect the event may have on their children. One parent of a Complex 10th grade honor student, who did not wish to be identified, said her daughter told of having been standing next to Jahmalie when he was gunned down.
The distraught parent, who lives with her daughter in the Frederiksted area, said she went to the school to meet her daughter Tuesday afternoon after hearing about the shooting. "She was crying so much; she said she never wanted to experience anything like this again," the mother related. "She told me that Jahmalie was shot right in front of her."
The mother said her daughter, "a quiet child," didn't want to talk too much with her about the incident but "was on the phone calling her friends and talking to them."
She said she will closely monitor her child and get help for the girl if there appears to be a need. Acknowledging that she has not been involved in the school PTA, she said that "parents need to get more involved" and vowed to be more active in the Complex association in the coming year. Complex is a "good school but they need more security and police" presence, she said.
May Adams Cornwall, Education Complex PTA president, agrees that it is critical for parents to get involved — not just with their children's schools but with their children. Parents need to teach their children decision-making skills, she said, but many parents need to learn these skills, themselves.
"As adults we often do not look at our own options when making decisions." Cornwall said. "We are very narrow minded." She said parents should talk to their children about different scenarios and outcomes. "Give them options on what to do in a situation; give them an array of possibilities and alternatives of what can happen," she said.
Cornwall emphasized the importance of parents letting their children make their own decisions, saying that "we are trying to create decision makers."
She also advised parents to keep a close eye on their children to see if they need help dealing with the effects of the shooting. "Some children will internalize their feelings," she noted. "Boys tend not to tell their mother — or father, if there is one present in the household — what stress they are feeling." In the next academic year, she said, the PTA will offer training and other resources for parents who need help in communicating with their children.
If the individuals involved in the racetrack fight had been able to talk their conflict out, Tuesday's tragedy might never have happened, she said.
St. Croix psychologist Chester Copemann, who heads the Education Department's Crisis Management Team, said at the Wednesday morning meeting that it is important to provide immediate counseling after a tragedy: "The sooner you can ge
t mental health professionals on the scene, the better," he said.
Crisis response goes further than grief therapy, he said: "The students need to talk about what happened. Keeping it bottled up retards healing."
After the meeting, he said the teachers were given basic instructions to assist the students when they return to school. The crisis team will hold special sessions for those who witnessed the shooting and separate sessions for Jahmalie's close friends and family members, he said.
With the "diet of violence that is being fed to our young people," Copemann said, it is imperative that the community start to take a proactive approach to the growing violence. "We cannot continue to bemoan these situations after they happen," he said. "Young people don't have a sense of mortality."
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