By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST THOMAS, USVI -- A fatal shooting on St John on Friday night; another fatal shooting at a nightclub in downtown Christiansted; and an armed robbery on Saturday night in St Croix that left two police officers injured, culminated a weekend of violence in the US Virgin Islands.
On Sunday afternoon, Governor John de Jongh visited with both St Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell and Police Officer Elsworth Jones, who are hospitalized recovering from gunshot injuries they sustained on Saturday night. Both Howell and Jones were shot while pursuing suspects in an armed robbery that had occurred moments before.
“While they are laid up in a hospital bed, it didn’t escape me that their greatest concern is the safety of their fellow officers and the effort that is underway to identify and arrest those responsible for the robbery and shooting,” de Jongh said, adding, “The wave of violence this weekend … is of deep concern to me as it is to each and every person who calls the Virgin Islands home.”
De Jongh said on Sunday that the growing gun violence in the territory is not acceptable and while the territory struggles with this epidemic, “I assure everyone that the leadership of the Police and Justice departments is engaged to deploy every asset available to us to fight this violence head on.”
“There are many initiatives and strategies that my administration has activated in response to the increased instances of gun play this year alone -- but we simply cannot discuss those solutions publicly,” he said.
“We are working now more than ever with our federal law enforcement partners to bring additional crime fighting resources to the territory as we continue waging the war on the criminal l element -- a crackdown that is engaged every day at the street level by the officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department,” de Jongh said.
He said he will ask Senate President Ronald Russell to have the 29th Legislature finally take action on a bill that would grant peace officer status to federal agents while they are assigned in the territory. The Senate is scheduled to be in a two day formal session this week.
The governor also said that he has been reassured by both the police commissioner and attorney general that “we are chipping away at the gun violence scourge and in short order, there will be a renewed sense of control over the flow of guns into the territory and into the hands of the perpetrators who, with no regard or value for life, resort to firearms to settle their differences.”
De Jongh on Sunday expressed his deep appreciation to the men and women of the VIPD and all law enforcement officers in the territory who work tirelessly each day on the front lines. “It should be noted that in the shooting on St John Friday night, the case was quickly closed by an arrest on Saturday. This was thanks to solid police work coupled with positive response and support from the community.”
“As regards the shooting of Chief Howell and Officer Jones, officers are pounding the pavement looking for the suspects responsible for the robbery and subsequent shooting. Citizens have come forward with critical information that has led to the detaining of a person of interest for questioning. Many leads are being followed to bring closure to this case. And there are also significant leads being pursued by police in the case of the security guard who was shot and fatally wounded on Saturday night just as a nightclub was opening in downtown Christiansted,” the governor said.
“While these incidents occur and we take quick action to arrest the perpetrators, what is completely unacceptable in our society is the belief by the criminals that preying on law enforcement is fair game.
“Let me be quite clear, the attacks in the two districts on law enforcement officers are not acceptable… it is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to our community. Several weeks ago on St Thomas, we experienced the shooting of police officers Colvin Georges and Aaron Hodge, on Saturday night we saw the shooting of Officer Jones and Chief Howell. My administration will not allow the criminal element to believe it can fire upon officers of the law at will. It will not be tolerated. One by one, we will hunt down those who have waged violence against officers of the law and those who continue to wage street justice as a means to end their differences,” de Jongh said.
He pledged his administration’s continued commitment to provide law enforcement the resources it needs to battle gun violence in the territory.