A gunfight near the D.C. Canegata Ballpark Friday injured three innocent bystanders and brought condemnation and frustration from Gov. John deJongh Jr.
Police on St Croix arrested a 17-year-old minor in connection with the incident. Police said the minor was exchanging gunfire with another person when the injuries happened.
DeJongh said he was at a loss to understand how a 17- year-old minor who is under house arrest for assault in connection with a crime on St. Thomas was on St. Croix Friday night instigating a confrontation that ended in three innocent bystanders being shot.
A 12-year-old girl was shot in her shoulder, a 43-year-old woman was shot in the hip and a man in his 40s was grazed by a stray bullet in his back and arm. The wounds are non-life threatening, police said.
The incident happened at about 8:12 p.m. Friday. Residents called 911 Emergency Dispatch to report shots fired and police responded to the scene along with emergency medical technicians, who treated the injured victims and transported them by ambulance to Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital for treatment.
Saturation patrols and other law enforcement officers canvassed the streets to locate the shooters.
Based on the investigation, at about midnight, police arrested the 17-year-old-minor, a resident of the JFK housing community. The minor was injured with a gunshot wound to his hand that he sustained during the shootout, police said. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Police said the minor was already under house arrest by order of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands resulting from an incident for which he is presently awaiting trial. That incident involved a 2009 assault case in which the minor is charged with shooting another person.
Police arrested the minor on the new charges of first-degree reckless endangerment, possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence, and assault. More charges may be pending, police said, and the minor might be bound over to face the charges as an adult, police added.
The search for the second shooter is ongoing.
The governor expressed his anger and frustration at the continued violent crime in the territory by perpetrators who are either on pre-trial release or awaiting sentencing.
“The message to our Superior Court judges is loud and clear: The place for these criminals is behind bars, not free on the streets or in our neighborhoods,” deJongh said.
The governor added that the V.I. Police Department statistics are clear when it comes to those defendants who commit crimes, are charged, and then released by the judges pending trial. In the interim, they are supposed to be confined and their movements limited, yet they continue to get illegal guns and retaliate.
“These victims … were out with their families enjoying recreational activities at this popular park and ended up hospitalized for gunshot injuries. All current indications suggest that the 17-year-old instigated the confrontation that ended in a shooting,“ deJongh said.
The governor said Saturday he intends to request an immediate meeting with the leadership of the V.I. Superior Court to hear from the judiciary about how decisions on house arrest are made.
He added that the police cannot be expected to wage an effective battle against criminals if suspects are so easily returned to the streets following their arrest, and in many instances, after they have been found to possess dangerous weapons.
“I encourage members of our community to stand up with me against this practice of granting pre-trial and pre-sentencing release to criminals whose intent is to continue their violent crime assault against the people of the Virgin Islands. The time has come for increased actions on our part, and I for one will see to it that they happen,” deJongh added.