July 17, 2001 — Four people could face murder charges Tuesday in federal court on St. Thomas for the weekend drowning deaths of six people in what law enforcement officials are calling a smuggling attempt gone awry.
Six people died, a 7-year-old is missing and 21 people, including the suspected smugglers, were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard off Tortola shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday when their 25-foot boat capsized, said Ivan Ortiz, a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesperson.
An infant who was in the boat is now at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas in guarded condition. The childs mother, along with the other people in the boat, is in INS custody on St. Thomas. They will be processed and presented for prosecution on Tuesday in St. Thomas, Ortiz said.
Ortiz said the victims were from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia and Dominica and had boarded the boat on French St. Martin. INS officials believe they were headed toward either St. Thomas or St. John, which are under the American flag.
"We have identified four people as possible smugglers," Ortiz said, adding that they could be charged with murder. Because of the ongoing investigation, he said no information could be released about the suspects.