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Arlington civil rights leader killed in Turks and Caicos shooting

Kent Carter, right, with fellow Arlington NAACP leadership members Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr., center, and Michael Hemminger. (Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr.)

Kent Carter, a prominent racial-justice leader in Northern Virginia, was one of three people killed over the weekend in the Turks and Caicos Islands amid a string of violent attacks that have shaken this British territory in the Caribbean.

Carter and his girlfriend had traveled to the popular vacation destination to celebrate his 40th birthday, his half brother Barry Cantrell said, and were being shuttled back to their hotel from a water-skiing excursion before the attack.

Trevor Botting, the territory’s police commissioner, said that at around 6 p.m. Oct. 2, a group of “armed criminals” apprehended a vehicle containing staff from a local business and two tourists.

The assailants “proceeded to indiscriminately shoot into the vehicle,” he said, killing one local employee and one tourist from the United States and injuring three others in the vehicle. They did not name any of the victims.

Carter’s girlfriend survived with minor injuries, according to Cantrell. Officials said they believe one of the attackers was later killed by police.

Botting said Monday that the ambush was “carried out by armed gang members who act without conscience, who have no regard for life, and who are hellbent on causing indiscriminate harm and misery.”

Botting connected the incident to several other episodes involving armed attackers over the weekend, noting that violence has been on the rise on the Caribbean archipelago. In addition to the three deaths, five people were injured in this string of incidents.

Julius D. “J.D.” Spain Sr., president of the Arlington NAACP, described Carter — an Army veteran and realtor who had been serving as the group’s first vice president — as a “gentle giant.”

“He was a servant leader,” Spain said. “He was one who didn’t ask for anything in return, but did it because he knew it had to be done.”

A high school football player who grew up near Knoxville, Tenn., Carter served as a military policeman at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Even while deployed in Afghanistan, he would proudly wear orange gear to support the University of Tennessee football team, his half brother said.

“No matter where he went, East Tennessee always stuck with him,” Cantrell added. “We both had kind of a rough background … but look at how he turned out. Anything he touched, he was very good at.”

Carter moved to the D.C. area after leaving the Army and worked as a special agent for the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Commerce before making a career shift to sell real estate.

Spain said he first met Carter through the Prince Hall Freesmasonry, a historically all-Black Masonic association that conducts charitable work such as food drives. Carter would go on to lead Alexandria’s Universal Lodge No. 1, the association’s oldest branch.

“His impact in our community and his character and trustworthiness and judgment were impeccable,” Spain said. “He’s one of those silent but very effective leaders. … No one can speak ill will of Kent. He was just a very warmhearted individual.”

Carter, who also chaired the Arlington NAACP’s criminal justice committee, helped organize a large racial-justice protest in the Court House neighborhood following the police killing of George Floyd in summer 2020.

Weeks later, he was appointed to the county’s police practices working group, which was tasked with reviewing policies for law enforcement in Arlington. Carter worked on a subcommittee of the group that helped design recommendations for the county’s new civilian oversight board.

The office of Turks and Caicos Premier Washington Misick wrote in a statement Tuesday that the incident on Turks and Caicos over the weekend “is rare and does not reflect who we are as a people.”

The attack, the statement said, was “not one in which the victim was targeted.”

Botting said police and the attackers exchanged fire in a separate encounter later that weekend.

After officers in a patrol car intercepted the assailants’ vehicle, the attackers began shooting automatic weapons toward the officers. Their bullets repeatedly struck the windshield and deflated two tires on the patrol car.

Officials said they are investigating reports about an unidentified body found nearby, which they believe was one of the armed attackers shot by police. They said they also believe shots discharged by the attackers during the confrontation with police struck a different man, who had arrived at a hospital with a head injury.

Cantrell, who received a call from Carter’s girlfriend as soon as she got back to her hotel, said he is still processing the news about his half brother. A fellow sports lover, he had recently spent a weekend in Atlanta with his half brother watching baseball and visiting the College Football Hall of Fame.

“To be honest, it has still not registered,” he said. “You just don’t want to believe it.”