American citizens warned of ‘potential for increased crime’ – Embassy warns about St Augustine

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Crime Scene Investigators collect evidence along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway on Wednesday after three men and a woman were shot to death. FILE PHOTO – Angelo Marcelle

THE United States Embassy in Port of Spain issued a security alert on Thursday highlighting several places in St Augustine and environs, all south of the Eastern Main Road.

The warning was titled, Security alert — Exercise caution – Potential for increased crime.”

It said, “Location: Trinidad, St. Augustine area

“Event:  Exercise caution as there is potential for increased crime.”

The alert said criminal activity often occurred in crowded public locations such as markets, shopping malls, airports, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, transportation hubs, schools, and other areas. “Due to recent increased gang activity in St Augustine, US citizens are advised to exercise extreme caution in the St Augustine areas of Trincity Mall, Trincity, Grand Bazaar, and Valsayn areas into the new year.” It advised US residents of actions to take.

These were: Exercise vigilance or avoid areas with heightened criminal activity, review your personal security plans, be aware of your surroundings, and monitor local media for updates.

The warning was posted 24 hours after four people were shot dead in an incident on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, near Spring Village, on Wednesday.

A car veered off the highway and its passengers jumped out and fled, pursued by four gunmen alighting from another car. They shot dead the driver trapped behind the steering wheel.

Video footage from local homes and businesses posted online showed the gunmen hunting the passengers, shooting at them as they ran.

They chased their victims through residents’ yards, with one video showing a man scrambling over a wall to try escape the gunmen.

In the end, three men lay dead, with one survivor escaping, said to be a TriniBad music artiste.

The victims were named as Levi Criss, Damien Criss and Jerry Hollingsworth, while Kashif “Kman 6ixx” Alexander escaped.

Tragically, Spring Village resident, businesswoman Lana Sahadeo, was struck by a stray bullet and killed, after peering out of her window to see what the nearby commotion was all about.

Newsday was unable to contact Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds and Police Commissioner Erla Christopher.

BUSINESSES CONCERNED

Two business organisations in the area on Friday lamented the highway shooting incident.

The San Juan Business Association, in a statement lamenting the kidnapping of El Socorro businesswoman Anesha Narine-Boodhoo.

“The level of criminal activities has reached such proportions that every citizen feels unsafe. The shooting at the Churchill Roosevelt Highway and now this.”

Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Commerce president Ramon Gregorio on Friday told Newsday that regrettably Tunapuna has always had a level of lawlessness and criminality, which was now on the proverbial doorstep. Asked if it was right for the US alert to warn about local shopping areas in a response to the highway shooting, he commented on the happenstance of the shooting location by remarking,”Today Tunapuna, tomorrow Westmoorings or Barrackpore.”

He said, “We have to get to the root cause. Open a conversation on policing. What are the strategic measures?”

Gregorio suggested a need for police posts on the highway, to apprehend criminals.

WARNING: A screengrab of the US Embassy’s webpage showing its alert to American citizens about the potential for increased crime in TT especially St Augustine. –

He lamented the deaths in Wednesday’s shooting, and said criminals operate with a lack of fear and amid a high level of lawlessness.

Asked again about the US alert against local shopping centres, he reckoned that would be short-lived.

Gregorio said the reality now was that people in TT must exercise due diligence anywhere they went in TT, whether the malls, beaches or even churches.

He said independent of the US alert, TT must now consider what needs to be done to take back the country from the criminal element and make it safe again.

COUNTRY IMPLODING’

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal viewed the US alert as a “disturbing indicator of the crime abyss” into which Trinidad and Tobago has sunk.

“The country is today unpoliced and unpatrolled.

“While we have absolutely no sight of police patrols on the highways and roadways, we leant today that the police had speedily hunted down unknown felon Ian Sookram, charged and convicted him within a month for threatening the Prime Minister and CoP and the heinous offence of ‘misuse of a telephone’. He was critical of Hinds’ performance.

“We have nightly explosions of gunfire across the land with news of injury and death assured in the aftermath. We have midday assassinations on the major highway routes. Now brazen early morning kidnappings have returned us to the bloody pre-2010 era.” He alleged the government was allowing the society to disintegrate.

“The US officials clearly felt compelled to issue the grave alarm in light of the daylight gang killings and the murder of innocent bystander Lana Sahadeo.”

The alert showed TT’s ever-worsening crime scourge, Moonilal said, and was a harsh blow to TT’s international image and the prospect of attracting tourists and investors.

“In addition, the Americans are advising against visiting shopping malls in communities close to St. Augustine, which would doubtlessly also be heeded by locals and lead to a significant falloff in much-needed commerce.”

He said the US statement followed unflattering British media reports after a murder near the hotel where English cricketers were staying.

Moonilal alleged the Prime Minister remained callously detached, refusing to hold talks with the Opposition.

“There are no new legislative or policy initiatives.”

He criticised boasts about tourist arrivals and planned visitor tours to what he termed “criminal hot spots.”

“As the crime plague worsens, the Police Service and Defence Force have all but disappeared from public roads, which remain largely unpatrolled.”

Moonilal said home invasions were a dreadful daily activity, with virtually no arrests.

“The American advisory to St Augustine is a frightful indication that every geographic community is in danger of becoming criminal emergency zones.”

St Augustine was previously renowned as a centre of learning, medical care, and safe and comfortable living, he said

“The disastrous Rowley Government is permitting TT to descend into a bloody zone of war.”