May 9, 2005 Five years ago, University of the Virgin Islands freshman Jason Carroll died in the middle of the afternoon on a downtown street, the victim of gun violence. He was 18 years old.
Since that time, his parents Celia and James Carroll have worked to make some sense of the violence. They have used their grief as a stepping stone to help others, to raise awareness of what guns can do in the community.
Carroll had just finished his first year at UVI and had written essays against gun violence. His killer, then-24-year-old DeShaune Harrigan, was sentenced in October 2002 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
"It is time for this community to come together and to break the silence," Celia Carroll said. "If they don't report gun violence, those same guns could be used against them some day they could be saving their own lives. People have to speak out."
Months after Jason was killed, Celia Carroll started a chapter of Mothers Against Guns (MAG) in the Virgin Islands. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has proclaimed Sunday, May 22, to be Mothers Against Guns Day and Jason Carroll Memorial Day.
The day will feature the second annual Walk & Run Against Violence, starting at 4 p.m. at the Coast Guard dock. The course runs through Frenchtown to the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and back. Participants can pre-register at the Surf Shop in Havensight and downtown, American Paradise Gym in Nisky Center and at the Jackson Center at Antilles School.
The event is $8 for pre-registered adults and $3 for children. On race day, it's $10 for adults and $5 for children. Celia Carroll made it clear that no child will be left behind: If a child doesn't have the registration fee, he or she can still enter the race. Registration will start at 2:30 p.m. on the waterfront.
Schools and youth groups also will participate in the race and be eligible for trophies. Last year, Cancryn won the big trophy, Carroll said. This year trophies will be awarded to a school and to a youth organization. She said she and her husband have sent packets about the event to the schools and to the different organizations to register ahead of time. Participants from St. Croix also will participate in this year's event. Carroll said Parents Against Violence, a PTA group of the Educational Complex, will be bringing students over for the event.
Last year's walk/run raised $3,300, which will be used for a scholarship for one year's tuition at UVI. The scholarship is open to anyone under the age of 20 who is entering their freshman year at UVI, has lived in the V. I. for a year, has no criminal record and has demonstrated a commitment against violence. The winning student must maintain at least a C average, with 12 credits per semester.
The applicants must write a 1,000 word essay on "How the Virgin Islands will stop excessive violence in its community." The deadline for submitting the essays is Wednesday. They must be addressed to the UVI Office of Institutional Advancement, St. Thomas, V.I. 00802-9990.
The walk/run participants and others will be asked to sign an anti-violence pledge and commit themselves to being part of the solution, Carroll said.
The pledge reads: "I will never bring a gun to school; I will never use a gun to settle a dispute; I will use my influence with my friends to keep them from using guns to settle disputes. My individual choices and actions, when multiplied by those of young people throughout the country, will make the world a safer place. Together, by honoring this pledge, I and other young people of society can reverse the gun violence, and make the world a safer place."
A new feature has been added to this year's event. "One of the big things is a Memorial Wall. We will have cards to give out so victims can in some way memorialize loved ones. They can tack their messages to the board." It will be up during the event, Carroll said. She isn't certain exactly how the wall will be constructed at this point, but it will have to be moveable, and it will be set up in Emancipation Garden, she said.
Carroll said she just got the pleasant surprise that Joe Trunk is coming down for the event, and he is bringing his two sons, Ryan and Holden, who were Jason's friends. Jason would have been 24 this year, Holden's age, she noted. Trunk was principal of Cancryn for many years.
Carroll is hoping for good weather this year. Last year, she said, it rained everywhere except on the race course — "God is still working miracles."
The national Mother Against Guns organization celebrated its 11-year anniversary in March. The not-for-profit, non-partisan group was founded by Liz Bishop-Goldsmith after she wrote an obituary for her godson, who had been killed in gun violence at the age of 27.
The MAG Web site states: "Our goal is not to ban guns, but rather to prevent gun violence by lobbying our elected officials to pass common-sense legislation that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for our youth and criminals to commit these brutal and cruel acts."
Gun violence, in fact, hit the island again Sunday. Gunshots were reported at Magens Bay, the territory's premier beach and St. Thomas' favorite family gathering place. (See "Gun Violence Interrupts Sunday at the Beach.")
Carroll found the news difficult to believe, even with her awareness of the problem in the community. "On Mother's Day? At Magens Bay? You can't go anywhere. Do we have to wait until it touches everybody?" she asked.
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