Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty has been working around the clock to try to prevent the shooting that took place on Coki Point beach from destroying the territory’s tourism industry. On Friday, she and the V.I. police department commissioner Novelle Francis, Jr. met with representatives from major cruise lines on Friday to discuss safety concerns. The meeting was facilitated by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
On Monday, July 12, 2010, 14-year-old Liz Marie Pérez Chaparro was fatally struck by a bullet during a shoot-out near Coki Point beach on St. Thomas. She was a passenger on the Carnival Victory and was leaving Coral World in a safari taxi with her family, when a gun battle broke out at a burial service going on at Coki Point Cemetery.
When the volley of shots stopped, 18-year-old Shaheel Joseph — who had been attending the funeral — was dead in the street. Liz Marie was hit by a stray bullet and rushed to the hospital, where she died soon after.
A second tourist, also a passenger on the Carnival Victory, was wounded in the incident when a bullet grazed his cheek, and he gave his eyewitness account of what he saw to investigators before the ship left port.
On Tuesday, Police arrested Steve Tyson in connection with the Coki Point shooting. A judge upheld first-degree murder charges Wednesday and denied bail for Tyson on Thursday. Police Commissioner Novelle Francis Jr. said there may be more arrests made soon.
Calls to the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association for comment were not returned Friday, and while Nicholson-Doty and Francis also did not return calls by presstime, Francis released a written statement. Government House also released a letter that had been sent to hotels and others in the travel industry on Friday.
Both the letter and Francis’ statement detailed enhanced security measures the Police Department said it will take to ensure the safety of visitors. The new measures include:
• Visible foot patrols of town, hotels, and other areas frequented by visitors
• Increased mobile patrols of other areas with high-visitor traffic
• Monitoring, maintaining, and upgrading security surveillance apparatus and 24-hour monitoring of surveillance cameras in towns
• Intelligence gathering previous to and during visits of the areas frequented by visitors
• Careful monitoring of the movement of visitors
• Increased high-intensity patrols of popular attractions throughout the island
“Our visitors must feel safe and secure during their stay,” Francis said in the written statement.
He said the US Virgin Islands remains a safe place for visitors, and crimes against tourists are very rare.
The letter said the department is working to develop and launch a US$1.2 million marketing campaign to highlight the positive aspects of the Virgin Islands. The campaign will be launched in the coming weeks, Nicholson-Doty said in the letter.
The shootings received national news media coverage, and the issue of what Monday’s gunfight means to travelers continues to dominate web blogs devoted to the cruise industry.
The crime has left the victims’ families devastated, Virgin Islanders horrified, and the global tourism industry fearful about future travel to St. Thomas.