June 13, 2006 – Nearly one year after their respective brothers were murdered on St. Thomas, Samantha Roberts and Saman Dashti are on island this week in an effort to get some answers about the deaths and maybe find some solace.
N.Y. tourists Leon H. Roberts and Tristan A. Charlier were gunned down at the bus stop across from the Arturo Watlington Post Office on Veterans Drive on June 15, 2005. Samantha Roberts is the sister of Leon Roberts; Dashti is Charlier's brother.
Two men, one a minor at the time, were arrested two weeks after the killings. Jamal Hart, 20, was charged with first-degree murder as was his brother Akil Hart, who was 17 at the time. The pair have since pled not guilty.
Roberts and Dashti arrived on Monday and spent the afternoon going through the voluminous files and transcripts related to the case. It was the first time anyone in the families had seen the reports and documents.
They both said that trying to get information long distance was frustrating and mostly futile. "We felt like we were going in circles every time we tried to get information," Roberts said. "I guess they assumed we knew about cases like this."
Roberts said she and Dashti didn't spend a lot of time Monday scrutinizing the two-and-a-half-inch-high stack of documents. "After reading certain things, it was too much," she said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
But reading the transcripts has provided some help, both Dashti and Roberts said. Dashti said he is less pessimistic about the prosecution's case, while Roberts said she has more answers for her parents.
She said, "It's been too hard on them, so they've been putting it on me to find answers." But the answers until now have been few and far between.
Of the people who have returned their phone calls and responded to inquiries, Dashti said, "Nobody will say much."
But by Tuesday afternoon Roberts and Dashti had most of their questions answered in person by Ernest Bason, the attorney who will be prosecuting the case for the Attorney General's Office, and the two investigators on the case, Detectives Lionel Bess and Mario Stout.
"They answered every single question," Dashti said. And those they weren't able to answer directly, he said they offered possible scenarios.
Along with answers about the case and what happened that night, Roberts and Dashti are here to remember their brothers with an informal memorial service at the spot where they were killed.
That will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14. They have been in touch with Celia A. Carroll, executive director of Mothers Against Guns Inc., who is organizing a prayer vigil and asking the community to support the family by showing up and "participating in a candlelight vigil in memory of these two young men who died before their time."
A concurrent memorial service will take place in Jamaica, Queens, on the street where the two men, who had been lifelong friends, played together.
As the two spoke about their reasons for coming to St. Thomas, Dashti was interrupted by a phone call from stateside media, which will be covering the service there.
Roberts and Dashti are also on a mission to get out the message that the Virgin Islands has security problems.
And Dashti and Twumasi Weisel – whose wedding Charlier and Roberts were on St. Thomas to attend when they were killed – are the people to do it. Both are involved in Web development, computers and the Internet.
Weisel is developing a site called www.vacationtragedies.com, dedicated to the memories of Leon Roberts and Charlier. However, Dashti expects the site to provide a balance of information that he did not find when he and his brother, Tristan, were planning their trip to the Virgin Islands last year.
"We looked online … we saw the beaches. None of the crime problems were mentioned," Dashti said Tuesday afternoon. "I know it's antagonistic … and like taking the food out of the mouths of people," he said, "but there has to be a balance of information."
The families have suffered severe emotional losses that are obvious when you speak with them.
"I've had problems sleeping since I've been here," Roberts said. Dashti adds they have been thrown off their eating schedule, too. "Our appetites have been weird," he said.
They have suffered enormous financial losses, too.
Without Leon Roberts' income from working construction, his parents were forced to sell their home, where Leon and Samantha were both living when Leon died. "Without his income and with the funeral expenses, we were forced to sell the house," she said.
Roberts said between the costs for two funeral homes – one on St. Thomas and one in Queens – along with the burial plot, it cost the family $17,000 to bury her brother.
Samantha Roberts – who has three children ages 11, 10 and 4 – said she and her brother were really close. "He would knock on my door every morning," when he got up to go to work.
Dashti said Charlier's funeral costs were $12,000.
The pair are disappointed that they have so far received no financial victim assistance. "Every time we send them some piece of paper they have asked for, they say they didn't get it, or tell us to send something else," Roberts said referring to appeals they have made to the Criminal Victim's Compensation Fund.
They have also reached out to the V.I. Tourism Department for help after the trial starts in bringing family members to the island. Tourism Commissioner Pam Richards said she would try to assist by finding discounted air fares and hotel rooms, but she told the Source Monday it's not the job of Tourism to fund these kinds of things. She said they should reach out to the V.I. Police Department's victim assistance program. Roberts and Dashti did but were told the V.I. Justice Department has no money for travel expenses.
Before the deaths of their brothers, Roberts and Dashti didn't know each other. The deaths have pulled the families together. Dashti said Roberts' mother comes to visit his mother.
When Dashti decided in January to make the anniversary trip, Roberts opted to join him.
They were comfortable Tuesday night after meeting with Bason. "We both came out feeling like the prosecution is in good hands," Dashti said.
But Roberts still has some other questions about their time on the island before they were killed: "Did they enjoy the sun? Did they even get a minute to enjoy it?"
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