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Day of Remembrance Honors Those Lost to Violence

Cecile deJongh (from left), Audrey Smith and Gov. John deJongh Jr.In a ceremony which first lady Cecile deJongh called "a day we wish we didn’t have," relatives of St. Thomas murder victims shared memories Saturday morning of the lives violently taken from them.

On this National Day of Remembrance, the first lady said, "You have your memories every day you live. We want to do something here in the Virgin Islands to honor those memories."

Before a sparse but sensitive audience at Government House on St. Thomas, the women told of their loss, their grief and bewilderment at the events that had suddenly changed their lives.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. and the first lady, along with the Family Resource Center, and the St. John Crisis Center, sponsored the solemn ceremony dedicated to the lives of those victims.

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The day is part of a national observation started by Robert and Charlotte Hullinger in 1978, after the tragic death of their daughter, Lisa, on Sept. 25 of that year. They formed "Parents of Murdered Children, Inc." The organization now has 100,000 members in 300 chapters worldwide.

It provides help for families through support services, counseling, crisis intervention, professional referrals, and assistance in dealing with the criminal justice system.

Shani A. Pinney, Leida Perez and Anya Stuart greeted the audience in English, Spanish and French Creole, respectively, a touch which deJongh took note.

In his remarks, deJongh remarked on the island’s diverse population and the "sensitivity" of the presentation. He said the more than 50 homicides this year, "eat away at our social structure, it has taken a heavy toll. It is difficult to stand here and talk about a day like today, to have lost a child."

Audrey Smith rose from her seat, and slowly made her way to the podium. She spoke of the murder of her cousin, one murder which will never be forgotten, not only by the family, but by the community– the March 1994 ambush slaying of Police Officer Stephen Hodge, at his home, where he lived with his parents.

"You cannot forget," she said. "He was killed by 21 gunshots," Smith said. "His father never called his name again until the day he died. It took a toll on him; he was in denial. Stephen’s mother, my aunt, is in the States now. She has lost vision in one eye from the stress.

"You cannot imagine how it is," Smith said. "It is not something easy to live with – it is not something nice."

Smith, who attended with Helen Burke, Hodge’s aunt, said after the ceremony, " Stephen was such a promising officer. If the police needed anything, they always knew Stephen would be prepared, he would always help. It was just days before his 26th birthday."

Holding a framed photograph of her son, 24-year-old musician, University of the Virgin Islands student and National Guard Spc. Lewayne Fraser, Lorna Fraser kept a tight rein her grief, as she told of losing him to gunfire one night last October.

Fraser and another young man, Victor Smith of Tortola, were in a car on Garden Street at 3 a.m. Oct. 31 last year, when someone opened fire, killing both of them.

"He was my baby," she said. "The fourth child. He was the joy of my family, always showered with love. He lost his dad when he was young. He was quiet child, but he would always share with me. At night, he would come to my room, and we’d talk.

"He was supposed to ship out to Cuba in a couple days with the Guard," Smith said, "he was looking forward to it when he was gunned down."

Smith spoke of Lewayne’s involvement in helping disadvantaged young men. She spoke of the irony of his death. "He did not like violence – he was writing a paper on that."

Fraser played bass in the No Conflict band which he had formed in high school. "I always knew where he was," Smith said. "On weekends he played in the band. When the phone rang at 3 a.m….." she paused, "I still get teary-eyed, but I can talk about it now. It’s almost one year. God is good."

Fraser was buried with a full military funeral by the National Guard Nov. 3.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the picture of her 14-year-old grandson – Ahiem Huyghe, October 29, 1991 January 22, 2006 – who was killed under mysterious circumstances, Janice Henley spoke of two deaths.

"My son Kevin Leon Huyghe, was murdered July 6, 1998," Henley said. "He was shot in the daytime by his truck. He was 21 years old. He worked for the Public Works department. I was called and told he’d been shot, but nobody knew what happened. I still don’t know. He had three children.

"Then, four years ago, I lost my grandson," Henley said. "I heard about it on the news. We had just come back from a cruise a few days before."

Speaking after the ceremony Henley said her grandson was stabbed at his mother’s house, but doesn’t have any of the details. "I don’t know. We don’t speak," she said.

Speaking of the deaths today, Henley said, "I’ve never gone to any of the marches, or the ceremonies for victims, but I heard about this on the radio, and decided that maybe I could help someone else by sharing my story, so I came right down."

The ceremony closed with gifts of forget-me-not seeds graciously presented by the first lady. The seeds, in brightly decorated yellow and green cups, bore the message, "In memory of those who continue to live in our hearts."

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