Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Murder, Inc.

It was late on Sunday and my girlfriend was ringing the dinner bell.

I had already cranked out two sports stories and had a football combine feature to finish up after I met Brianna for some special pasta. The girl can cook. You can call me what you want but never call me late for dinner with my baby (Wow, that sounded very sappy).

As I slipped out the office, I caught the eye of a frazzled news reporter, who was holding a police scanner to her ear. Three people, including an infant baby, had already been killed over the weekend and the reporter was up to her neck in blood, gore and a staggering murder rate.

I got in my car and started the half-mile drive back home when the iPhone lit up. It was Constance, the news reporter, and her first few words immediately put a damper on my evening.

"You're going to hate me for this..."

When she told me the news, I pulled a U-turn out of my driveway and already heard the police sirens as the cruisers tore down the streets. I grabbed a camera and followed after them.

At first, I felt like one of those jackass lawyers who chase ambulances. I slowed down because I knew where the cops were headed. When I got close, there was another cop, who blocked the entire road and asked pedestrians to turn around. I showed him my press credential and asked if I could go around him. He looked at me like I was crazy.

"There's bullets flying and people dying up there..."

I humored his ode to an Ice Cube rap song with a nod and started to drive closer to the crime scene. Since the road was blocked off, I was completely alone on this dark road and it felt very eerie as I approached. Finally, I saw all the lights flashing -- the cops had turned off their sirens by now. Other cops rolled out the yellow "Don Not Cross" tape around the scene and the big guns were out.

I made a quick call back to Constance to give her an update before I got out of the car and she gave me the name of the police chief that is friendly with our paper. She told me that most cops won't tell you anything without consulting the chief but I found it quite the opposite.

I asked one of the cops rolling out the police tape what had happened and told him I was from the paper. I think he was impressed with my response time.

"Four shot, two dead..."

I got closer and started to snap off as many pictures as possible. After talking to drunk on-lookers, I started to piece together what happened.

Two guys had waited in the woods across the street for these two other guys coming out of the Cock Pit (Yes, I know it's crazy but there is a cock-fighting place here and believe me, it's not one of the places I will show my parents when they visit next month).

When their ride showed up, the two guys came out and there was a fire fight. Three people were taken to the hospital, one was DOA and a second fatality was still in the car.

It was the guy that came to pick up his friends.

He was wearing a red shirt, his seat belt was still buckled and he was slouched over the center console of the bullet-riddled SUV. The corpse remained in the car as the police conducted their investigation around him and after a while, a crowd of about 40 people had gathered outside the Cock Pit to watch.

It was the first dead body I've ever seen outside of a casket.

Now I continued to click away photos and after I finally got a hold of the police chief, I headed back to the office and brought a few of the gruesome photos with me. I sat down with the executive news editor and went through (what I considered) the best ones. She decided to stay conservative and this is the photo that ran in the next day's edition:

Per the story I had a co-byline for: After a shootout outside the Cockpit on Sunday night left two dead and two wounded, the territory’s homicide count stands at 34. By this time last year, the count had reached 22 — and all of 2009 had a record 56 killings.

For some reason, people on St. Thomas are killing each other at an alarming rate. It's not exactly a statistic I like to share with out-of-towners, who are booked at my house all month.

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