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BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Philadelphia, PA
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BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Hi everyone,

I am asking you to read this note fully for some careful travel advice, as I want to share with you the dangers we encountered on our vacation and to alert you to be careful on yours...

As many of you know, these past few days I was on vacation with my mom in the Caribbean, on the beautiful island of St. Martin/St. Maarten, in the Netherlands Antilles...I encountered a near-death experience...and considering I am alive, I would like to share it with others world-wide, so that they too may be warned about such things happening to tourists and vacationers, and perhaps this can prevent them from having an experience like mine... (please see the attached and very ironic Wall Street Journal Article, written March 18,2008, recommending the "Grand Case" place where we nearly got killed to tourists).

The island of St. Martin/St. Maarten is amazing – beautiful, white, sandy beaches, warm people and delicious seafood...the island itself is only 37 miles wide with 13,000 residents. It is 1/2 owned by the French (North part) and 1/2 owned by the Dutch (South part), thus considered to be split into 2 different countries with different governments and police forces, although most tourists arrive to visit the entire island (and there is no official split or immigration point to cross between the two sides). St. Martin is a very popular vacation spot for those going on various cruises and island stays, and the number one destination in the Caribbean (supposedly a very safe island to visit)...

However, there is another side of St. Martin/St. Maarten my mom and I got to know the hard way...the side of murders, kidnappings, disappearances, muggings and rapes...

We were walking in a safe area of the French side of St. Martin - in Grand Case, better known as the "Gourmet Capital" of the island, filled with vacationers, tourists and locals all gathering for some of the finest food on the island...

We just finished eating dinner at the Le Cottage Restaurant and walked out to go to our rental car, when, out of nowhere, a black car with tinted black windows screeches behind us, four local men between the ages of 16-20 jump out on us and proceed to attack me from behind, dragging me back into the car with them...

My mom, screaming paralyzed in disbelief that this is happening to us...IN REALITY...not out of some action movie script...jumps on the attackers to prevent them from dragging me into the car...

I managed to free myself and a serious fight for our lives persisted, as we were both screaming for HELP, fighting and kicking the four tall, built, local Caribbean guys for our lives...

Many people were nearby in the busy street, but all too scared to run up to help in time...so we kept fighting until one of the guys ran back into the car (for weapons or some other reason?), while the other knocked my mom down into a ditch on the side of the road, proceeding to kick her while she was laying down defenseless, all the while, punching her in the face and attempting to rip her handbag from her (which was hoisted over her shoulder).

In the meantime, I was fighting off the other attacker, who managed to punch me in the nose and the head...he tried to slam me down to the ground, but everything happened so fast and I was so terrified, that all I could think about was fighting him with the rental car keys I grasped tightly in my right hand...

I finally pushed him away, freeing myself, only to notice that the other man was on top of my mom, punching her and kicking her...so to my own horror and indescribable fear, I ran up to him and jumped on his back to try and free my mom...

Needless to say, he was much stronger and taller than I, so he slammed me into a side fence, cutting my upper right arm and punching me in the face once more...despite the pain and utter horror, we kept fighting for what seemed like an eternity... when realizing he was alone (the other attacker was back in the car with my purse, while my mom was still on the ground from the beating she took...) and I was the only one fighting him, he left me, turned around and ran up to my mom, and started to punch and kick her even more, finally ripping her handbag from its straps and running up to the black get-away-car, which at this point pulled up to the front of the street to make it's escape, as more people were coming out in response to our screaming...

When I saw my mom fighting the attacker, I was in such disbelief – I do not know how it is possible to think in such moments, but everything seems in such slow motion…almost like a timed movie…but this was reality - here was my mom, a doctor who normally used her hands to assist patients, save lives and deliver babies and bring forth life into this world, to have to use those same hands in the attempts of fighting/hurting someone to defend her life and that of her own daughter…

I was so angry that this guy hurt my mom – I was exploding with this irrational anger at that moment – and so I grabbed the attacker’s shirt and kept fighting him, trying to grasp my mom's handbag from his grip (the bag contained our passports, wallets and all other personal belongings)...I was running at him, fighting him, pleading with him, hitting him, screaming at him – and this time he was trying to pull away, realizing that attacking 2 defenseless women was not as easy as he originally had planned...

Finally, he and I somehow found ourselves next to the get-away car and I suddenly saw the other 3 men inside the car, all staring at me - realizing that if I did not let go of the 4th attacker immediately, they would grab me into the car and fulfill their original wish, I let go, the attacker jumped in, and they sped away...

I ran back to my mom, in disbelief about what just happened...she and I had cuts and bruises everywhere, my shirt was ripped with the attacker's blood on the front, my face swollen along with that of my mom's, my right thumb totally purple and numb, from the force with which I was fighting with the attacker using the car keys...and my handbag strap still on my shoulder somehow, without the bag...

When I ran to pick my mom up from the street, I saw that she was desperately clutching something black in her right swollen hand...it was the attacker's baseball cap which she managed to rip from his head in the fight...her fingers bloody from scratching the attacker's face and her knuckles swollen and blue from punching the attacker to escape...

YES...THIS ALL HAPPENED MONDAY, MARCH 10, 2008 ON THE "FRIENDLY ISLAND OF ST. MARTIN/ST. MAARTEN" in the Caribbean, on the main street of the French area of Grand Case, on the main avenue of the restaurant row...

We are blessed by God to be safe and at home in the US - beaten, shaken, but ALIVE...

You might think this was the worst of our ordeal...but NO...what followed was even more unimaginable...the French special Police force on the island...the GENDARMERIE NATIONALE, arrived after calls for help came through from local residents (since this happened on the French side of the island), took some eyewitness reports and examined the scene...however, since there were only about 5 of them on the island (!?!?!?!), there is not much they could do they told us...so they took us to the Police Station for a deposition and obtained the DNA evidence from the attack - they took my ripped, blood-stained shirt and the attacker's black baseball cap with the letter "A" on it to send off to a special laboratory for examination...we were at the police station until nearly 2 AM, at which point the police concluded the documentation and walked us to the rental car parked in the parking lot...telling us to go back to our hotel!!!

We begged them to escort us back to the hotel, as the attackers had all of our rental car documents (including the number of our rental car license plate), our photo IDs, our hotel information and the keys and parking passes to the hotel!?!?! Surely the police could understand the importance of escorting us back to the hotel safely to assure that we were not followed and our lives not in danger...but they said...if we escort you back, who will look for the attackers? We cannot?!?!?!?! Can you imagine our horror and disbelief to hear this?!?!...

So here we were...in the middle of the night...no cell phone, no wallet, no map, no IDEA where we were...told by the police to find our own way to the hotel...still bleeding and in complete shock, we were left in the deserted police parking lot to drive back ALONE!!!

What if the attackers had followed us? What if we got a flat tire, and our cell phones were stolen, our wallets gone, no money, no way to call for help? Where were we supposed to drive in the middle of the night, with no directions to the hotel? What if we got lost and drove into our attackers neighborhood? What if...what if....

The drive to the hotel was indescribable....after several wrong turns and breaking all of the speed limits, we finally heard a siren and were stopped by the French Police...WHAT? WOW! They stopped us and a few other cars for apparently passing a red blinking light meant to stop motorists during night road construction...

So there was no one to escort 2 aggravated assault victims home, but there was a car with 2 French police officers to stop motorists for passing a road construction on a red light? UNIMAGINABLE! We explained the situation to these police officers also, they examined the printed police report of our situation, turned down our request and told us to drive more carefully the next time?!?!?!

At this point, many of you might ask whether this is some dream or a plot taken right out of an action movie...but no...this was our reality – our nightmare...and if it happened to us, it can happen to anyone...so please read on, be careful and be very vigilant in your own travels...

Then again, since last week the Chief of Immigration and the Chief of Police were apparently arrested on the island for corruption charges, perhaps it is only natural to realize that no help can be obtained from the corrupt officials whose purpose was to protect us and the locals...

YOU MUST WONDER WHY I SAY TO YOU WE ARE VERY BLESSED AND VERY THANKFUL FOR OUR EXPERIENCE...

Well, we naturally had to deal with an unimaginable ordeal, fear, anger, broken trust, disbelief, much paperwork, a ton of corruption and red-tape, but we were ALIVE to deal with all these things…

Eventually we had to go back to the police station to deliver the official reports from the medical clinic which examined us...It is only then...standing and talking to the Geandarme officer, that I glanced at the wall in the entry to the Geandarmerie police station and noticed a poster with 12 MISSING PEOPLE...12 PEOPLE WHOSE BODIES HAVE NOT BEEN FOUND...12 PEOPLE WHO HAVE DISAPPEARED WITHOUT A TRACE (4 little boys, ages 5-8; 6 beautiful women, ages 25-50; and 2 men, one a student, another looked as though a businessman or an owner of one of the island's villas...) and that is just on the French side of St. Martin/St. Maarten…was it the same on the Dutch side? Or perhaps even more victims? More unheard of tragedies, disappearances, murders, kidnappings?

WHY DID I NOT SEE SUCH POSTERS ON THE ISLAND? WHY WAS I NOT MADE AWARE OF THE RAMPANT CRIME (increasingly violent)? WHY WERE THESE POSTERS SITTING AT THE POLICE STATION, WHERE VICTIMS COME, AND NOT AROUND THE TOURIST ATTRACTIONS, TO WARM THEM OF SUCH CRIMES...well, perhaps because the biggest investors to the island don't want tourists to know that the #1 vacation island (whose entire economy is based on tourism) they are coming to is plaqued with unsolved murders, crimes, theft, burglaries, and even petty purse snatchings from unprotected tourists and even the very own inhabitants of the island are beginning to live in fear...

But I want you all to know that YOU MUST BE CAREFUL and you must be aware that even the safest place is not safe at all...I want you to know of the crimes happening, and that which happened to us, because these attackers are still out there, and many more like them, because they know that there is nothing the police can do, because they know that these tourist-islands are interested in keeping things quiet to prevent fear and not to hurt the economy which is 95% based on tourism...and because they know that tourists come with money and let down their guard easily…

But what they don't know, that because these criminals are getting away with more and more, it is only a matter of time before the 12 murders turn to 100, before there will be another Natalie Holloway "Aruba" scenario, which will forever change the tourism, economy and foreign investments on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten – ironically dubbed "the friendly island of St. Martin/St. Maarten"

And who will the true victims be? Perhaps the 99% of the 13,000 residents of St. Martin, who are caring, kind and tourist-loving people...and sadly, the 1% of the criminals will continue to devastate unsuspecting families like yours and mine, until a much more serious crime will be brought to light, which cannot be swept under the rug any longer...which cannot be made to go away and disappear from the pages of the press via corruption or money...

I will pass this story along to all of you, and ask that you pass it along to all those you know and care about, because if it can happen to me and my mom (who was visiting the island as a doctor and part of a 300+ medical medical conference for the AAFP – American Association of Family Physicians), then it can happen to any one of you and your families...

I am very sorry to the kind residents of St. Martin, the majority of whom are such friendly, wonderful people, but I must expose this story, knowing that I might hurt them and tourism to their island in the long run...but if I can prevent another person...another family from going through the horrors which my mom and I had to live through...then it will be all worth it...

And perhaps, when both the Dutch and French governments recognize the importance of controlling crime on the St. Martin/St. Maarten island, PROTECTING THE TOURISTS THANKS TO WHOM THE ENTIRE ISLAND IS FUNCTIONING, and tackling the huge corruption which prevents these criminals from being effectively caught and persecuted (BEFORE THE TOURISTS OF THE WORLD STOP COMING TO THIS ISLAND OF PARADISE due to the fear for their own lives), perhaps then, even the island's residents can benefit from the measures which must be immediately taken to tackle these violent and surging crimes...

It is not enough for the Dutch to send their own special security forces to tackle the increasing problem of crime and murder (as they are planning to do in a few month's time, perhaps starting to recognize the impact this will soon have on tourism to their side of the island)...However, what is imperative is for the entire island to create 1 police force to tackle these problems...and for the cooperation between the 2 sides to immediately occur...after all, St. Martin, although split into control by 2 different countries, is still 1 island which is only 37 miles wide with only 13,000 inhabitants, BUT THOUSANDS OF TOURISTS PER YEAR, UPON WHOM THE ENTIRE ISLAND DEPENDS FOR REVENUE…

Thus, how is it possible that the French-side criminals target citizens and tourists on the Dutch side, while the Dutch-side criminals knowingly target citizens and tourists on the French side, KNOWING THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH THESE CRIMES DUE TO THE LACK OF ANY COOPERATION between the Dutch and French police forces...they know they can get away with these things, so they keep doing them!!!

I am thankful that both my mom and I can walk away with our lives and with many beautiful impressions of the island despite the attack...however, I am so sorry that the beauty of this island and its people must be tarnished by such low-life criminals, who not only have hurt me and my mom and our experience on the island, but perhaps the future of St. Martin/St. Maarten tourism for years to come, as I am quite certain we were not the only victims...and next time, instead of a beating, a mugging, or a disappearance, a gruesome murder will occur...I just hope this can be prevented by vigilance from all of you, the people of the island and the proper authorities...who can finally WAKE UP and realize they've got a problem on their hands that's bigger than corruption...and something money cannot fix...but recognition of the problem, cooperation between the French and the Dutch authorities and immediate attention to the cause of the problem can! RESPONSIBILITY MUST BE TAKEN BY THE AUTHORITIES…

I just hope it will not be too late for the people of the island, because the beauty and uniqueness of St. Martin/St. Maarten are immeasurable...but surely not worth risking one's life to see...

For pictures of our attack, please view this link:

www.facebook.com/album.php…

nj
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1. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

This is very scary, i leave this sunday with my wife on the dutch side. i am prepared to kick some arse if neccessary and am big so hopefully not targeted. we may just stay on beach and not go adventuring anywhere.....

CT
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2. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Just came back 2 weeks ago and had no problems. We were there when this incident took place.

Use common sense and you will be fine. People seem to lose their 'street smarts' when on vacation. St. Martin is a lovely island where you can go to relax and have fun. It is not Utopia. It has crime like everywhere else. Take the same precautions you would take at home and NEVER carry your passport and travel documents with you when out to the beach and out to dinner. That is what the safe in your room is for. Don't leave valuables in your rental car and leave the car UNLOCKED when parked. If someone does try to break in there will be no damage that you will be responsible for.

Have a great vacation, venture over to the French side for dinner . You'll be fine

Massachusetts
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3. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

I have to say that when I began your story I was a little leery, as you just joined ta today! That does not do much for your credibility, and believe me, you will be slammed on this board when you post a story like this when a newbie. However, you pictures do lend credibility to your story, and I am sorry to hear of your encounter. I am sure it is something you will not soon forget, and the fact that you are still concerned for the good people of SXM is great.

Heal well and be well.

California
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4. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Just an FYI, she posted the same account on the TTOL site, with mixed feedback. As for the posters of missing people at the police station, someone did point out that those people were missing in France, not St. Martin.

Massachusetts
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5. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Mc, I agree w/you on the possible embelishment w/the wanted on the wall, and I tend to be gullible. But, what does it matter if she posted it on both websites?

Boston, MA
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6. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

I also am very leery of this post - just joining the message boards and then posting only one message - this? Also, not to be a "doubting thomas" but those pictures would have been taken anywhere and could be from anything. Again, it could very well be a legitimate post who really knows.

I think everyone needs to remember that messages boards are usually inhabited by people we do not know and we need to view all posts whether positive or negative - with this in mind. Some people have an axe to grind abd some people are legitimate.

If this did happen I am sorry that you had to experience this.

Park Ridge, New...
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7. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Thank goodness you were not killed. I have been to the island 4 times and have never encountered any issue what so ever, but this story shook me a bit as most people walk the island thinking this stuff does not happen.

Toronto, Canada
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8. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

Its unfortunately the rare but hard price paid for traveling outside one's country and safety zone. Although very rare, stories like this do surface everywhere. I've read similar stories about Mexico, Brazil, even countries within Europe. Jamaica has areas that the cops wont even go into. If you veer outside the resorts and get lost in one of these areas you're pretty much toast.

Poverty breeds crime, thats a universal truth that is beyond any specific location. (except maybe Cuba, safest tourist place I have visited)

I just checked the Canadian Travel Advisory

www.voyage.gc.ca/dest/ctry/reportpage-en.asp

which lists St. Maarten s a generally safe destination for Canadians to travel to. Although thats probably of no comfort to you after your experience, I think your situation is not indicative of what most people would experience from a visit to the Island.

Travel by day, travel by groups and stay out of areas that aren't populated or don't have tourist presence.

Its posts like these that make me continuously read TA for months before my vacation, so I know what I'm getting into when traveling.

Orlando, Florida
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9. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

I leave for St Martin soon and will heed your advice. Thank you for taking the time to post your experience.

New York, NY
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10. Re: BEWARE - Danger for Tourists in Caribbean Paradise...

If this story is true my heart goes out to you and your mother however I agree with KandjCt; why would you be walking around with your passport and other valuables? also, I looked at the pictures you posted and if the events of your attack happened EXACTLY as stated your bruises (IMO) would be much more severe which leads me to believe your story has been embellished. This does not take away from the fact that this was indeed a horrible ordeal for you both and you two are very lucky to be able to walk away from this vicious attack. You are not the first person and probably won't be the last to share a very unfortunate experience while vacationing. I just hope that you are giving us a true account of your ordeal and not taking advantage of a forum that has been created for us to voice our opinions and obtain information. God Bless you and your mother and I wish you both a speedy recovery...