To Rochelle Payne, Friday’s arrest of a suspect in the murder of her brother, teacher David R. Payne, is an important step in getting justice, but not a conclusion.
A detective from the V.I. Police Department called Rochelle at her Philadelphia home to tell her a 17-year-old suspect has been arrested in the Sept. 7, 2012, murder of Payne, who was shot to death while standing at the front door of his home. He received multiple gunshot wounds, according to the police report at the time. The incident took place at about 10:30 p.m.
The police department confirmed Saturday afternoon that an arrest had taken place Friday morning.
While news of the arrest was welcome to family and friends who have waited for justice, it’s just a first step, Rochelle Payne said in a phone interview Friday from her home in Philadelphia.
"We still have a long ways to go," she said. "If there’s a trial, if there are other arrests made as well … we have a long way to go."
The fact that the charges against the suspect, who as a minor will not be identified by the police, includes "conspiracy to commit murder" suggest the police have other suspects in mind, since a conspiracy requires at least two people. The youth is also charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, first and third-degree assault, four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and first-degree robbery.
The teen, who lives in St. Thomas, was placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services and sent ot the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix.
Rochelle Payne said she wanted her brother – a sixth grade teacher at Ulla F. Muller Elementary School, to be remembered for his dedication to young people and his spirit.
"He was passionate about life, and he was passionate about the children he taught. He wanted to make an impact in their lives. He was a mentor" she said.
She did not miss the tragic irony that apparently he had been gunned down by a teen, the age group he was dedicated to helping.
"He always would speak to them, tell them ‘Don’t let the barriers hold you back from ever reaching the goals you have,’" Rochelle Payne said. "These are the types of guys that he wanted to help. It’s hard, to know the same guys he wanted to make an impact on in the community were the guys who killed him."
Payne had only recently turned 30 when he was killed. It may never be known precisely what happened that night, and that haunts his sister.
"He was taken away in such a tragic way," she said. "How were the last couple of seconds of his life? Was he scared? I wish I could have been there to help. Could it have made a difference?"
Shortly after the murder the family created a website, www.davidpaynerewardfund.org, to raise money for a reward to help bring the perpetrators to justice.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a complete list of charges against the suspect.