Hundreds of people gathered late Sunday afternoon at the Coast Guard Dock to take part in the annual V.I. Mothers Against Guns Walk/Run.
The crowd filled the street for about 400 feet along the waterfront as participants from schools, businesses, organizations, and other supporters prepared for a two-mile walk/run from the Coast Guard Dock to Frenchtown. The event raises money for the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund, honoring a young man who lost his life to gun violence almost a decade ago.
The overall best time was recorded by Ryan Bareuther, a 21-year-old student at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Ashley Benson had the overall best time for women. The youngest participant was 5-month-old Jonah Bernier and the oldest was Vince Fuller, who logged the best overall time for the 60 and older age group.
Ivanna Eudora Kean High School wn the honor for being the school with the most participants, and the top organization was Fintrac.
Many spectators commented that the number of participants continues to grow from year to year, though the final count of Sunday’s event won’t be known for a few days. An incorrect time was given by one source, which caused dozens of racers to trickle in as others waited for the race to begin.
The Rev. L. Hodge arrived after the first wave of runners had already crossed the finish line, but insisted on participating to show his support.
“I’ve just got to be a part of this. It’s big,” Hodge said.
Following the event, supporters met in the Emancipation Gardens Park for music and awards. Although trophies were awarded to those who finished at the top of their age group, every participant left with a T-shirt and a medal.
Tia Abraham read the essay that earned her the Jason Carroll scholarship, stressing the importance of the parental role in preventing violence.
Volunteer and breast cancer survivor Donna Phillip stressed that “our community is small, and we have a lot of children. This is a message to our children.”
Celia Carroll, executive director of the event, has promoted the VI MAG walk/run for eight years. Carroll became involved when her son, Jason Carroll, was shot to death. The Jason Carroll Memorial Fund pays for a full year of tuition for a student to attend the University of the Virgin Islands. The student must be a high school senior with a 2.5 GPA who is committed to non-violence, and who has already been accepted by UVI. Judges at UVI decide on the scholarship winner.
Leo Danis, a 9-year-old who was one of those touched by the cause, walked from his home in Mahogany Estates to participate in the walk/run.
"I believe in myself, and I had to come out and run," Danis said, adding that he feels strongly about the message the annual event sends to the community. A fourth grader at Ulla F. Muller Elementary, Danis said he was looking forward to telling his classmates about the experience, and wants to encourage them to come out next year.
Charlotte Amalie High School’s JROTC battalion was also represented in full force with 85 students. Heading up the group were Sgts. Steve Pinney and Alex Roberts, who jokingly told reporters that their group was the "hottest news tip of the day."
Asked what they did to train for the race, Roberts said, "They’re young students, full of power – a good breakfast and plenty of water was all that was needed."
Taking a rest at the finish line was CAHS senior Shamari Skelton, who said he felt "great" after the two-mile run and for posting a time of 25 minutes.
"This is my last year, and I feel proud of myself. Accomplished," he added. "I’m happy with my time."
As the MAG event took place in town, mourners gathered at the Ritz Carlton to honor Sean O’Connell, a 54-year-old who was shot and killed in the Mandahl area April 1. O’Connell, a victim of gun violence, was remembered at the MAG event.
Spectator Deniece Williams reflected on the tragedy.
“Violence doesn’t stop. But we’re here because we don’t either,” she said.
Further information about the event is available online at http://vimothersagainstguns.org/.
(Ananta Pancham also contributed to this story.)