By Alex J. Rhowuniong
Firearms are banned in Yap; no suspect yet in Bergeron murder
Yap authorities have yet to identify the gunman who shot dead acting attorney general Rachelle Bergeron outside her home on Oct. 14.
Gun violence is typically rare in Yap, where possession of firearms is prohibited under Weapons Prohibition Act of 1981. Exemption applies only to law enforcers on duty and U.S. servicemen.
Other than the FBI being on the ground in Yap to conduct its own investigation into the murder, the Yap state government still has no update on the case.
Yapese citizens took to social media to express their indignation over the tragedy on the otherwise idyllic tropical island.
While some local residents and former residents maintained their island is still a safe place. Others are worried.
This murder was the second involving an American citizen on Yap soil in nearly a decade. The first was that of a Seventh-day Adventist teacher, Kristen Elizabeth Wolcott.
Wolcott was attacked and murdered next to a highway where she was jogging on the morning of Nov. 18, 2009.
“It is sad! And it’s a shame that such cold-blooded murder just happened on Yap,” said former Yap lt. governor, Andrew Yatilman, via Facebook messenger of Bergeron’s murder.
Yatilman, is currently in Honolulu en route to a meeting with Chinese leaders in Apia, Samoa. He is secretary of the Department of Environment, Climate Change & Emergency Management in the Federated States of Micronesia in Pohnpei, FSM’s capitol.
Yatilman, secretary of the Department of Environment, Climate Change & Emergency Management in the Federated States of Micronesia in Pohnpei, FSM’s capitol.
“Our people are friendly and very welcoming of visitors and guests, and such unfortunate incident like this can easily portray a negative impression on how our people are,” he added. “I extend my sympathy and condolences to Simon, the husband, and Rachelle’s family during this difficult and dark moment.”
FSM’s fourth state has been known to be the “kind and peaceful traditional” state in all of Micronesia—until the recent incident.
Bergeron was shot and killed outside her home. Simon Hammerling, her husband, was inside the house cooking. The couple got married last year Oct. 25, and were just looking forward to their first anniversary in a few days.
Hammerling is a pilot and director of maintenance with the Pacific Mission Aviation, a non-profit organization serving God in the islands of Micronesian and the Philippines providing free medical care, sea searches, rescue and disaster relief, transports medical and food supplies, and providing logistical help to the islands.
Yap state Gov. Henry Falan said in a video message: “Yap’s spirit was broken by this senseless and heinous act.”
Yap resident Sabino Sauchomal said: “I am in Yap, and I still can’t believe that Rachelle is actually dead. She was so full of live. And one of the kindest souls I’ve ever come into contact with.”
“I can’t believe that she died so horribly like that. I just saw her Monday afternoon walking up the access ramp to the administration building after her husband, Simon, dropped her off,” Sauchomal said. “It is unthinkable that something so deplorable and so heinous can touch this kindest soul. I thought we, in Yap, have this human compassion that is unique to us. The state government and the people have lost a dear friend.”
Sauchomal, former Yap State Legislature’s floor leader, is current executive director of Yap Action Community Program.
“Violence does happen in Yap, but it doesn’t happen often so I kind of take my safety for granted,” he said. “I deeply feel for the family of this woman and dearly hope that heinous and senseless killing like this does not happen to anyone I know.”
Catherine Noir, a citizen of Poland who is living in the United Kingdom, expressed concern as she plans to visit Yap.
“Oh no! I was planning to go to the Yap on my next Micronesian trip,” Noir wrote on Facebook. “Is this place not safe? A tiny island and such a crime? I was on Pohnpei. I was feeling safe in there (I’m solo-traveler woman). Should I change my plan and go to some other island?”
On the same page a Yapese living overseas , Tinmew Yanruw, replied to Noir’s comment: “Yap is one of the safest places on the planet. The whole island is shocked because Yap banned firearms. We are more surprised, shocked and saddened to hear of a gun crime in Yap.”
Jason Ligohr, also of Yap, agreed with Yanruw: “Yap is one of the safest places on earth. People are respectful and kind.”
“Most people in Yap cannot afford guns,” Yanruw added, “but my main concern is the culprit to be caught. I am worried about my family back there when a murderer is on the loose.”
Rhika Berger, another poster, wrote: “Look everyone, 90 percent of people in Yap can't afford a gun. Why would they spent money on buying a gun when their focus is on what to (bring home to feed the family)?”
On the PMA Facebook page, Melinda Espinosa of PMA Headquarters in Guam said: “On behalf of the PMA family we are saddened of the untimely passing of Rachelle, Simon Hammerling’s wife. Simon is PMA’s Director of Aviation Maintenance. Our hearts go out to him. The PMA/PMF Family is surrounding Simon with love and support. Our President Nob Kalau is flying in to be with him. We appreciate your prayers for Simon and Rachelle’s Family.”
Click here to subscribe to our digital monthly edition