St. John Tradewinds News

Reported East End Rape Under Investigation; Police Upping Presence Across St. John

The report of a rape on the island’s usually quiet East End has ruptured the community’s silence, sparking emotions and tensions among St. John residents actively seeking answers from investigators who remained tight-lipped bout the case.

At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 30, a teacher at Guy Benjamin School called to report that a woman had been found raped in Coral Bay, according to the V.I. Police Department blotter at the Leander Jurgen Command in Cruz Bay. The blotter classified the report as a first degree rape.

Although several V.I. Senators released public statements saying the crime was racially motivated and that the victim was battered, gagged and raped before being thrown into the ocean, neither federal nor local law enforcement officials confirmed or denied any specifics regarding the incident and the lack of information has increased the frustration of residents.

St. John Residents Want Answers
Residents gathered at a packed Wednesday night meeting August 31 called by V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen to demand information about the case from local and federal law enforcement officials. The meeting was moved from the V.I. Legislature Building to Franklin A. Powell, Sr. Park to accommodate the crowd.

“Did we have a hate crime in our community?” asked Lenyse Shomo, expressing fears about racism. VIPD Commissioner Elton Lewis would only say a crime had been committed, and the classification of the crime was still being investigated by officials.

“We are at a very critical stage; we’re scared, we’re angry and more than anything we want to find solutions now,” said Father Charles Crespo to the crowd.

However, law enforcement officials said releasing information on an on-going case is against procedure because it prevents them from thoroughly and accurately completing an investigation.

“The policy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice is that we cannot confirm or deny that an investigation is going on,” said FBI spokesperson Louis Feliciano, adding that he could not respond to questions regarding the case.

VIPD Investigating Rape Report
Local police are investigating a report of first degree rape, according to VIPD Deputy Chief Angelo Hill.

“We are investigating a first degree rape,” said Hill. VIPD is involved in the rape portion of the reported crime, but other agencies are investigating other aspects of the case, he said.

“We are only dealing with the rape part of the case but other agencies are investigating other parts of it,” said Hill. “We are working together; it’s all one report and every agency is working different parts of the case.”

Chief Hill confirmed the victim was treated for rape at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center.

“Based on the information from the doctor, it is consistent with a sexual assault,” said Chief Hill, explaining sexual assault is considered rape. No Leads Reported
“There are no leads to report as far as the rape case is concerned,” said Hill, who would not confirm or deny the number of assailants involved or provide any physical descriptions.

Additional information regarding the rape case will not be available until an announcement is jointly released from the FBI, VIPD and local officials investigating the matter, the deputy chief said. Two suspected arsons occurred hours after the emotionally-charged gathering on Wednesday evening, August 31, where hundreds of community members probed local and federal law enforcement representatives for answers after initial reports of the alleged rape and possible hate crime.

A Jeep owned by Cruz Bay business owner Robert Sells was burned in front of his retail store at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, September 1, and about one-half hour later, a lone arsonist attempted to start a fire inside Skinny Leg’s in Coral Bay.

Sells’ store is on the ground floor the same St. Johnian-owned building as a former tenant who alleged in June she was a target of racial graffiti before closing her second floor retail store when the lease expired at the end of that month. The long-time Cruz Bay business owner was charged in June on a citizen’s arrest for simple assault in a different incident with the former tenant.

The following morning, at 2:55 a.m., on September 2, Sell’s retail store, Close Reach Imports located in Meada’s Plaza, was set ablaze. While the store was entirely gutted by the blazes, the adjacent Rhumb Lines restaurant suffered water and smoke damage and the unoccupied second floor received smoke damage.

Police were not linking the fires to the reported rape case as of press time Friday, according to Hill, but the St. John Fire Department Chief said the fires were suspected arson. Stepping Up Presence
St. John VIPD is stepping up operations in efforts to quell fears and increase security on the island, according to the deputy chief.

“I have special operations officers and officers from other zones on St. Thomas,” said Hill, who said the extra manpower would remain as long as necessary.

“That is up to the (VIPD) Commissioner Lewis – as long as it’s needed, as long as the investigation takes,” said Hill, who did not reveal a time frame for the investigation.

Case evidence has been collected and statements have been taken, according to Hill.

“These things have to be collaborated and evidence has to be processed and we will make decisions from there,” said Hill.

In the meantime, officials are urging the community to remain calm.

“We are asking people to remain calm and let the investigation take its course,” said Hill. “Right now people are making their own assumptions and reacting to information that is all rumor when nothing has been given to them as evidence.”