Featured Image: Basket of roses that attendees tossed into the ocean in honor of 2016 murder victims.
Corliss Smithen |
ST. THOMAS – A small crowd converged at Emancipation Garden Sunday afternoon to celebrate the lives of their murdered loved ones during a somber and poignant ceremony to mark National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, which was jointly organized by the Victim Services Unit of the Department of Justice and the Family Resource Center.
During the event, two survivors of victims – Kimesha Wade, who lost her fiancé three years ago and Aloma Blake, whose son was violently killed about 10 years ago – reflected on the lives of their loved ones.
Wade told those in attendance of the struggles she faces as a single parent raising her son alone after his father, Andre Christian, Jr., was killed on Sept. 28, 2013.
“Being a single mother has changed my life,” Wade said. “It has tested my physical and emotional strength, my ability to manage my time and personal life… As a single mother, I bear the weight of making ends meet on one salary to try and equal the second income his father would have brought in.”
Wade said she feels proud, though, when she is able to relax with her son, watch his favorite television shows with him and see his comfort in her.
“My son is my pride and joy, my heart, my soul and my world, and even though this job is every bit as gratifying as it is exhausting, it made me see how much of a strong, independent and responsible person I am,” she said.
Wade also vowed that these streets will not take a hold of her son. “I am breaking the cycle and I am raising our next doctor, lawyer, or aero-engineer. I am 100% vested in my son’s success; he will be someone great,” she concluded.
Aloma Blake tossing a rose in memory of her son, Dorian Blake, who died at age 21 on Dec. 12, 2006.
Blake spoke fondly about her son, Dorion Blake, who died at age 20 on Dec. 12, 2006, then recited a poem titled, “Four Candles,” in his honor.
“My son… was such a welcomed gift to all of us who knew and grew to love him. He had a loving and caring spirit and a great sense of humor. When touched by that humor he would laugh gregariously enveloping everyone around him,” Blake said. “Dorion was a happy child who loved family and thought it was the greatest thing to be called ‘Uncle Dorion.’ He shared a special relationship with his grandparents always showing compassion and concern for their well-being.”
Blake described her son as “intelligent and musically-talented.”
“He played the trumpet and the steel pans, but the steel plans stole his heart playing both the double second and guitar pans,” Blake said. “He crafted his skills while writing and arranging musical tunes for the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School Burning Blazers Steel Orchestra. Dorion made our lives so much richer and I miss him every day. He was taken from us way too soon on December 12, 2006 at the age of twenty by a drive-by shooter.”
Eljhaie Brathwaite, a student of the Charlotte Amalie high school and a rising musician, playing one of his renditions.
At a time when the Territory has recorded 46 homicides so far for the year, St. Thomas/St. John Police Chief Jason Marsh, who also addressed the gathering, appealed to the public to help the police in its crime-fighting efforts.
“We as a community must not be desensitized to this cycle of violence,” Marsh said. “We must bring this community back to a place where we feel safe when walking the streets. It takes us to have enough and to do something about it. I challenge you to help us bring these criminals to justice.”
Also on hand to address the attendees was Vivian St. Juste, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center, who informed the affected families of the services her organization offers.
Attorney General Claude Earl Walker, in his address, spoke of some of the methods his office is using to fight crime including, the increased staff of the Victim Unit and the recent hiring of several prosecutors.
“…We understand that when we have charged someone with murder, the family expects that we put adequate resources into preparing and trying these cases,” Walker said.
Bethany Vasquez playing the violin during the scroll-signing ceremony.
One of the main features of the event was the scroll-signing ceremony when family members of murder victims were given the opportunity to announce and sign the names of their loved ones on either of two memory scrolls mounted on site.
Two high school students – Eljhaie Brathwaite on the steelpan and Bethany Vasquez on the violin – provided musical accompaniment for the occasion. The brother and sister duo of Malvern and Merida Gumbs offered their rendition of the song, “Total Praise.”
A half hour earlier, the crowd gathered at the Waterfront for a rose-laying ceremony, during which family members, friends and relatives of murder victims tossed red roses into the sea in memory of their dead relatives. A single white rose, which was also flung into the ocean, signified hope, peace, solutions, commitment and answers.
A similar ceremony is being planned for the upcoming year.
More than 50 roses float on the sea in honor of murder victims.