National News

May 13, 2013

Police vow to solve shootings of 19 in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — A medical student who witnessed the shooting that wounded 19 people during a Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans said Monday the gunman appeared to be firing in a controlled manner, but it wasn’t clear if he was trying to hit specific people.

Police released a grainy surveillance video that shows the crowd suddenly scattering in all directions, with some falling to the ground after the shooting on Sunday. They appear to be running from a man in a white T-shirt and dark pants who turns and runs out of the picture. The image isn’t clear, but police say they hope someone will recognize him and notify investigators. Investigators are offering a $10,000 reward.

Medical student Jarrat Pytell said he was walking with friends near the parade route when the crowd suddenly began to break up.

“I saw the guy on the corner, his arm extended, firing into the crowd,” Pytell said Monday.

“He was obviously pointing in a specific direction he wasn’t swinging the gun wildly,” Pytell said.

Pytell said he wouldn’t recognize the gunman’s face but that his attire matched the images released by police.

Three people remained in critical condition Monday. Authorities said it appeared that nobody suffered life-threatening wounds and most had been discharged from the hospital. Ten men, seven women and two 10-year-old children were wounded. The children suffered only graze wounds.

Pytell said he helped a woman with a serious arm fracture — he wasn’t sure if it was caused by a bullet or a fall — and others including a man who was bleeding seriously from an apparent bullet wound.

Pytell said he and a friend had taken refuge in a ditch when the shooting broke out. The shooting was over quickly and he got only a quick look at the gunman.

Police believe more than one gun was fired in the burst of Sunday afternoon violence — the latest to flare up around a celebration this year — and they have vowed to swiftly track down those responsible. Detectives were conducting interviews, collecting any surveillance video they could find and gathering evidence from the scene. Cellphone video taken in the aftermath of the shooting shows victims lying on the ground, blood on the pavement and others bending over to comfort them.

It’s not the first time gunfire has shattered a festive mood in the city this year. Five people were wounded in January after a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, and four were wounded in a shooting in the French Quarter in the days leading up to Mardi Gras. Two teens were arrested in connection with the MLK shootings; three men were arrested and charged in the Mardi Gras shootings.

“The specialness of the day doesn’t appear to interrupt the relentless drumbeat of violence,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference outside a hospital where victims were being treated Sunday night.

Mary Beth Romig, a spokeswoman for the FBI in New Orleans, characterized the shooting as street violence.

As many as 400 people came out for the second-line procession — a boisterous New Orleans tradition — though only half that many were in the immediate vicinity of the shooting, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said. Officers were interspersed with the marchers, which is routine for such events.

Second-line parades are loose processions in which people dance down the street, often following behind a brass band. They can be planned events or impromptu offshoots of other celebrations. They trace their origins to the city’s famous jazz funerals.

Outside the hospital Sunday night, Leonard Temple became teary as he talked about a friend who was in surgery after being shot three times during the parade. Temple was told the man was hit while trying to push his own daughter out of the way.

“People were just hanging out. We were just chilling. And this happened. Bad things always happen to good people,” said Temple, who was at the parade but didn’t see the shootings.

A social club called The Original Big 7 organized Sunday’s event. The group was founded in 1996 at the Saint Bernard housing projects, according to its MySpace page.

The neighborhood where the shooting happened is a mix of low-income and middle-class row houses, some boarded up. As of last year, the 7th Ward’s population was about 60 percent of its pre-Hurricane Katrina level.

The crime scene was about 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers) from the heart of the French Quarter and near the Treme neighborhood, which has been the centerpiece for the HBO TV series “Treme.”

Sunday’s violence comes at a time when the city is struggling to pay for tens of millions of dollars required under federal consent decrees to reform the police department and the city jail. The agreement to reform the police department came after a scathing Justice Department report in 2011 said the city’s officers have often used deadly force without justification, made unconstitutional arrests and engaged in racial profiling. A series of criminal investigations focused on a string of police shootings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The mayor initially backed the police reform but is trying to put the brakes on the plans, saying the city can’t afford to spend millions required under the two agreements.

Shootings at parades and neighborhood celebrations have become more common in recent years as the city has struggled with street crime, sometimes gang-related.

But police vowed to solve Sunday’s shooting. Serpas said it wasn’t clear if particular people in the second line were targeted, or if the shots were fired at random.

“We’ll get them. We have good resources in this neighborhood,” Serpas said.

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