April 12, 2006 – Under the hazy light of a full moon and the dancing flames of about 75 candles, residents, family members and friends paid an emotional tribute Wednesday evening to murder victim Sherett James – a junior at the University of the Virgin Islands – and other victims of violence.
Spurred by James' death on March 25, the vigil– held at the Herman E. Moore Golf Course–also gave individuals a chance to comfort each other, share songs and poems, and most importantly, discuss the need to band together to "stem the tide of violence" which many said is sweeping through the local community.
"As I looked up at the moon tonight, I looked for Ms. James," Dr. Solomon Kabuka, James' advisor and a UVI business professor, said. " Kabuka explained that in his native Africa the moon represents "where we might end up as we grow" and "where we go when we die."
Kabuka said advisors look upon their students as parents look upon their own children and guide them toward development. "It's truly sad that we didn't get a chance to see this young lady develop," he said. "And it hurts. It hurts very much."
Kabuka said that he was also saddened by the way the territory has developed, and he lamented that the violence exhibited by police officers is a "cancer to the society."
Sharing Kabuka's sentiments were a plethora of James' professors, who also spoke at the event, along with members of James' family, who demanded that community leaders hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
"How many murders have gone unsolved, how many crimes? How many people have been held accountable?" questioned one family spokesperson. "We need to talk to our senators and address the Police Department, because the crime was committed by a policeman Sherett will not rest in peace until justice is served."
As James' family members turned to leave the podium, under a white tent on the golf course, they wiped tears from their eyes, but also set the stage for other speakers to talk about their own losses.
Celia Carroll, whose son Jason was an 18-year-old student at UVI when he was gunned down on the streets of St. Thomas, talked about the various stages of grief and said that, at one point, she began to feel the pain of "every bullet that ever hit my son." To get through this, she said, "I turned to God" and got involved with organizations committed to getting guns off the streets.
She told audience members that many young men feel "that they won't live beyond the age of 20" and are cold, angry, and bitter. She said the community must work together to identify the root causes of these emotions or else some young men would continue to "feel that life is unmanageable – so much so that they have no problem taking another life."
Other speakers, such as Janice Henley, the grandmother of 13-year-old Ahiem Huyghue – who died after being attacked at his mother's home in late January – said that she hoped the vigil would galvanize others into taking a stand against violence. Henley brought tears to the eyes of many audience members as she explained that she had lost both Huyghue and his father – her son – to gun violence.
"That's why we held this event," Andrea Hamm, a UVI psychology professor and counselor, said. "We were outraged by the silence of the community when Sherett's death occurred, and we wanted to speak out against violence while encouraging the students to become more involved in organizations that deal with these issues."
Hamm, who organized the event along with other offices at the university, added that she has been contacted by many individuals who supported the event – including Lester Shannon, the brother of Cincinnati comedian Blair Shannon, who was killed Jan. 19 when a suspect entered his hotel room at the Best Western Carib Beach Hotel and attempted to rob him.
"Violence is something that affects every aspect of our society, including our economy, which is hurt when tourists come here and are murdered," she said.
Hamm, along with representatives from the Family Resource Center, advocated that residents become more involved and actively reach out to help people who are either victims of violence or who commit violent crimes.
"It can only help," Sandra Hodge-Benjamin, executive director of the center, said. "If you know someone who is violent, talk to them, drag them to us, do anything you possibly can, because when they take someone else's life, they're also giving up their own."
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