Photo Credit: Carolyn Jones
Mother Of Black Tourist Assaulted In La Perla, Puerto Rico Speaks Out
Longtime friends Tariq Quadir Loat and James Jackson took a much-needed vacation with their girlfriends to Puerto Rico in late April. It was something the couples were aiming to do often, but sadly this trip turned into tragedy. On the last day of the getaway, Loat was shot and killed, and Jackson was severely beaten, when the young men ended up in La Perla, Puerto Rico.
The body of 24-year-old Tariq Loat, a resident of Wilmington, Delaware, was found severely burned, three days after he had reportedly gone missing.
Travel Noire had the opportunity to speak with Carolyn Jones, James Jackson’s mother, who wanted to shed light on the victims’ story, dispelling falsehoods surrounding reports in the media, while also helping other tourists stay safe.
According to Jones, James and Tariq were concluding a 4-day vacation in the Rio Mar area of Puerto Rico. They were on the way to return their rental car in San Juan, when Tariq— who was driving— made a turn somewhere that led them to La Perla.
“As soon as they turned onto a side street, people started coming up to the car, pulling on the door handles, asking if they wanted to buy drugs,” Carolyn Jones told Travel Noire. “Tariq pressed the gas to try to get away, but the car ended up crashing into a wall.”
Jones says that, at that point, Tariq attempted to get out and flee, but his door was jammed. He and James both went out of the passenger side, running in different directions. That’s when the shots rang out.
“My son, James, immediately stopped and put his hands up because one of the bullets landed near him. Some suspects grabbed him and dragged him back toward the car, where they began beating him with all types of objects. He said one of the men came back brandishing a gun and said, ‘I already killed your brother, and you’re next.’ Before he could try to run again, they hit him over the head with a sledgehammer and somehow moved him toward some steps, that are a popular tourist attraction.”
Sadly, Tariq Loat did not survive and his body was also badly burned. An American tourist from Massachusetts named John, who Jones describes as her guardian angel, found James unconscious on the steps. When he[James] came to, he helped him get his mother on the phone to tell her what happened. According to John via Ms. Jones, there was a local police officer in the vicinity of where James was laying, but the officer was not rendering aid. It was only after John and others in the area told the officer what happened, in Spanish, that she called for back-up— not an actual ambulance.
“As a parent, if I can, I want to help save someone else’s child from going through this,” Jones said. “I want to shed light on what exactly is happening to tourists in La Perla. The local media tried to paint this as a drug deal gone bad and my son and his friend trying to take photos when the locals asked them not to. Even if someone was in that neighborhood to buy drugs, there is no reason for them to be beaten, killed and their body burned and photos shared on social media.”
Jones added that when she shared her son’s story on social media, she began receiving messages from other Americans saying they had similar experiences in La Perla, including a Black woman whose story was eerily similar to her son’s.
“This whole situation has been a nightmare. The authorities tried to hold my son in the hospital by saying he had a broken leg and then again at the airport saying he needed to stay to complete the investigation. He’s the victim here. We had an x-ray done when he made it back to Wilmington and no broken bones were found in his leg or feet. I just don’t understand what is going on. But I needed to speak out.”
An investigation is ongoing, and although no arrests have been made, Puerto Rican authorities say they have a lineup of suspects for James to identify. While they asked him to return to Puerto Rico to do so, Ms. Jones would rather have it done stateside.
As more travelers set out to see the world again after the pandemic, she urges everyone to be cautious and aware as they travel.
“Travel in groups,” she said. “Do your research on neighborhoods or areas that locals try to present as “trendy.” If you are staying at a resort, try to stay around that area if you can. This didn’t happen to James and Tariq in the middle of the night, it was 5 pm and broad daylight. Like I told my son, who is suffering from survivor’s remorse over the loss of his close friend, this could have been anyone.”