May 9, 2005 Sunday at Magens Bay is a time that friends and family relax, party, play, frolic in the water and eat. Never before has it been a time when they had to dodge bullets. Not until this week.
At about 3 p.m. Sunday the sharp clap of gun shots interrupted the sound of laughter, music and pounding surf at the beach that "National Geographic" once dubbed one of the 10 most beautiful in the world.
Nobody knows, or if they do, nobody is saying, what caused someone to shoot at another individual in the middle of a crowd of families and children enjoying their Sunday at the beach.
Bill Jowers, general manager of Magens Bay Authority, could only describe the event from what employees and others told him. He wasn't there at the time, but he showed up 20 minutes later.
"There was a small party at shed No. 3 and a bigger one at shed No. 4," Jowers said Monday afternoon. Shed No. 4 is where the altercation reportedly started. A couple of men started chasing another one toward shed No. 3 shooting at him, when Jowers said, the man being chased decided to shoot back.
Both sheds are at the western part of the park.
That's all anybody knows at this point.
Assistant Police Commissioner James McCall said Monday afternoon, "We're asking the public for their assistance. We don't have anything."
Both Jowers and McCall pointed out there were hundreds of people at the beach who must have seen something or know something about what happened.
Jowers was happy with the police response. "The police were very proficient," he said. "But the bottom line is nobody wants to say anything like nobody saw anything."
Jowers also was concerned about rumors circulating that between 12 and as many as 22 shots had been fired. "It's not true," he said. "I was told four, but maybe it was five, no more."
In fact, though he scoured the area with the police Sunday for spent shell casings, Jowers said he found none. He said one of the parents who had been at the beach showed up Monday morning and found a bullet hole in a nearby tree, however.
"He was irate," Jowers said. "He had been there Sunday with his kids."
He was not the only one. Tim Miller, who was also at the beach with his son on Sunday, described what happened. "I've never heard live bullets before," Miller said, so when he heard the first volley of gunfire, he kept on talking to a friend on the beach. "I thought it was caps." But a minute later when people started running, some screaming, toward the water away from what Miller described as a large, loud party, he realized the sound wasn't caps.
He ran toward where his son had been playing with friends, "I came back and found our group had all the kids under the [picnic] table."
Miller said a few minutes later, six or seven people began to take off in several different cars. "I was wishing I had been close enough to get the license numbers," he said.
The last time any kind of violence broke out at Magens was "about 10 years ago on Valentine's Day," Jowers said, adding that it was a love triangle situation. That incident was was a stabbing, not a shooting.
Sen. Louis P. Hill, who often runs the Magens Bay Road from his home on Peterborg, was upset Monday afternoon when informed of the shooting. And he said the community should also be.
"The general public should be outraged and must fully cooperate with police, coming forward with any evidence they have," he said.
Miller was outraged by more than the shooting. He said the party in shed No. 4 was "not right," and he didn't understand why neither the police nor anyone at Magens Bay broke it up after the shooting. Miller said when he left at 6 p.m., three hours after the incident, the party was still in full swing. "It wasn't a good feeling," he said, describing the music that was being played as "not reggae, or anything like that." He characterized some of the people hanging around behind the shed where the shooting happened as "young thugs." Miller said the first round of gunshots numbered about five or six and the return volley was another six or seven shots.
"I couldn't understand why nobody ever disbursed the group."
Hill, a former Magens Bay Authority board member from 1999 to 2002, said, "This community deserves to enjoy Magens Bay with 100 percent certainty that it will be safe and secure."
Jowers is planning on upping that certainty. Even before the incident, plans were in the works to install further security measures at the most popular beach and park on St. Thomas. Jowers asked that the specifics of the security measures not be published, but said, "We are making definitive changes in security, and the plans were in the works before this happened.
"This was a horrendous, thankfully not tragic, episode. We're going to do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen again," Jowers said.
"But what can you do? Is there a metal detector that will detect guns, but not cars," he asked with some frustration in his voice. "If there were two guns at the beach that day, there were probably 15." He noted the garb worn by some young people huge baggy pants easily can conceal weapons.
One Magens devotee said, "People think of Magens Bay as their church. People bring their children, they do yoga. There is a group of Italians who have been playing bocci there for years."
At any time of day, walkers and runners dot the road and the beach; groups of friends soak in the sea; mothers and fathers watch as their toddlers learn to make sand castles and swim, gathered in play groups along the water's edge.
"Violence can break out anywhere," Jowers said. But he is unused to it breaking out at his beach. "Here it was a bright, beautiful Sunday, until it hit the fan."
Police could not confirm reports that a car fitting the description of that being driven by one of the shooters had been stopped and searched, but no weapons turned up.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the St. Thomas Crime Hot Line at 777-8711, which is monitored 24 hours a day, or 774-2310 and ask for McCall or St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Elvin R. Fahie.
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