The tranquility of St. John was shattered on Thursday afternoon, January 4, when a police chase left one burglary suspect dead, three in custody — two of whom were later released without incident — and two at large.
The suspects were allegedly involved in several home burglaries in Fish Bay on Tuesday, January 2.
A number of Fish Bay residents reported seeing a suspicious SUV in the area that day. One young woman witnessed a woman peering in her windows and an approximately 10-year-old boy running around her home after the white SUV backed down her driveway.
Neighbors again reported seeing the white SUV in the Fish Bay area on Thursday, January 4, and quickly called police.
V.I. Police Department officers responded, and a chase ensued.
“According to reports, at approximately 2:45 p.m., police on St. John stopped a white Toyota Highlander that was believed to be involved in a series of robberies that occurred on the island last week,” VIPD spokesperson Shawna Richards said in a written statement. “The traffic stop was made on Route 10, in the vicinity of Majestic Construction. The vehicle did not have a permanent license plate, and bore temporary dealer tags.”
Suspects Opened Fire
“Preliminary reports indicate that upon being stopped, the driver and another occupant of the vehicle opened fire,” Richards continued. “Police returned fire on the vehicle.”
One of the suspects was killed by gunfire, but as of Saturday morning, January 6, it had not been determined if a VIPD officer fired the fatal shot.
The deceased individual was identified as 17-year-old Michael Freeman, a St. John resident, according to Richards.
“The deceased individual, a black male, has been identified as Michael Freeman, a St. John resident,” said Richards. “The information I received indicated that his family moved to St. Thomas, but he continued to reside on St. John.”
This was not Freeman’s first brush with the law. He was shot in a still unsolved case on St. Thomas in November 2005, according to published reports.
Two Minors Released, One Man In Custody
While two suspects were able to elude police officers, two St. Thomas minors, a 14-year-old female and a 16-year-old male, were taken into custody along with 24-year-old Obrian Pac-quette, also a St. Thomas resident, Richards explained.
The minors were released into the custody of their parents without being charged with any crimes, according to Richards.
Pacquette, a resident of Anna’s Retreat, was charged with constructive possession of a deadly weapon, possession of ammunition and burglary.
On Friday, January 5, V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall found probable cause for the charges, set bail at $25,000 and ordered Pacquette to remain in custody for at least five days because the suspect is a resident of Dominica and is in the U.S.V.I. illegally, according to published reports.
The VIPD did not provide descriptions of the two suspects at large, but urged residents to be on the lookout for suspicious persons as the duo were considered armed and dangerous, explained Richards.
Report Suspicious Behavior
“Until these two suspects are in police custody, we would certainly advise the community to notify the police department if they notice anyone suspicious around their homes or properties, or if they notice any suspicious behavior of persons unknown to them around their home,” said Richards.
Police were aided in the man-hunt by Immigration and Customs Enforcement helicopters, Homeland Security officials and VIPD Special Operations officers.
“They had the helicopters flying around Fish Bay, and a bunch of police cars were running around,” said a Fish Bay resident, who described the night of Thursday, January 4. “When we called the police to find out what was going on, they would only say they were ‘on assignment.’”
Estate Pastory residents also reported seeing a low-flying helicopter Thursday evening, with its spotlight aimed at the Caneel Hill trail.
The search is not focusing on any specific area of the island, Richards explained.
Witnesses Aboard VITRAN
Witnesses to the day-time Centerline Road shootout reportedly included a number of locals and tourists aboard a VITRAN bus, who ducked for cover as shots rang out. The bus, which was behind the VIPD vehicle, continued on its route and did not stop at the crime scene.
On Thursday afternoon, the Toyota Highlander, which Richards said was registered to “someone who is affiliated with the suspects,” appeared to have lost control while traveling eastbound on Centerline Road, and was facing into the hillside at the turn just before Centerline Concrete with its rear passenger door open.
Crime scene tape cordoned off part of the road and the SUV — which showed no obvious signs of bullet holes — and VIPD officers were on the scene regulating the flow of traffic on Thursday afternoon.
Weapons Recovered From Vehicle
Weapons and stolen items were recovered from the vehicle, according to Richards.
“Police have recovered three guns, one knife and other contraband items that were previously reported stolen from the vehicle,” she said. “Some items that were previously reported stolen in the robberies were recovered, but I don’t have any specific information.”
Most of the homes burglarized by the suspects were rental villas, according to neighbors, but one Fish Bay resident returned home to find several pieces of electronic equipment had been stolen from his residence.
“My brother came home to find that one of the doors was open and he started looking around,” said the resident, who wished to remain anonymous. “It became obvious that someone had been through the house. They stole cell phones, iPods, video games and video game consoles.”
Professional, Empathetic Police
The police responded with professionalism and fingerprints were taken, according to the Fish Bay resident.
“The police showed up within five minutes,” he said. “They were very professional and empathetic. They took fingerprints at my house on Thursday.”
VIPD officials urge anyone with information or anyone who notices suspicious individuals to call either the Leander Jurgen Command at 693-8880 or the Coral Bay substation at 774-1111.