Officials: Falling bullets can kill

Although the once ubiquitous pleas for New Orleans area residents to refrain from ringing in the New Year with gunshots have waned, local law enforcement officials say celebratory gunfire remains a concern even as they report consistent decreases in the activity.

There was a time after the death of Boston tourist Amy Silberman in 1994 that the weeks prior to New Year’s Eve were filled with media campaigns and news releases admonishing residents to leave their weapons inside when the clock struck midnight.

Silberman was killed while celebrating in the French Quarter, and her death drew national media attention.

But, even before she was killed, reports of injuries and property damage from falling bullets were commonplace in the city.

After Silberman’s death, one of her relatives, Adam Fox, and another victim of a falling bullet, Gil Helmick, created a group to help drive home the message that falling bullets kill. The group received widespread support across New Orleans, and its efforts, along with the focus of law enforcement officials, appear to have gotten some favorable results.

Law enforcement officials have reported decreases in the reports of gunfire on New Year’s Eve for several years. The last report of someone injured by a falling bullet on New Year’s Eve came in 2008, although a woman was injured by a falling bullet during the 2012 BCS Championship game.

In another high-profile incident, Chef Paul Prudhomme was struck by a falling bullet in 2008, but that came at a golf tournament in Avondale in March.

Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans Executive Director Darlene Cusanza remembers the media campaigns that followed Silberman’s shooting and the public involvement they inspired.

But she said that in recent years that sort of attention and activity has waned.

Cusanza doesn’t know if fewer people are calling Crimestoppers because there is less attention, or because there are fewer shootings.

“We find we get fewer calls and ... fewer reports of activity,” Cusanza said.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said celebratory gunfire remains a problem in the city even if some of the focus on the issue has slacked.

Serpas remembers when Silberman was killed and said the incident became a “rallying point” for the community.

New Orleans police will be out in force for New Year’s Eve since it is a major celebration in the city, and Serpas said residents need to realize that celebrating with gunfire only encourages bad results.

“Enjoy the New Year, ring in the New Year, leave your guns inside,” Serpas said. “Common sense, common safety, common courtesy.”

Col. John Fortunato, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, said deputies will be dispatched to investigate any reports of gunfire, and if they catch people with guns they will go to jail.

Jeb S. Tate, a spokesman for New Orleans Emergency Medical Services, said he couldn’t comment on whether gunfire has decreased or stayed the same. But, he said paramedics still strap on their Kevlar-lined helmets for 15 minutes before midnight and for 30 minutes after for protection. In 2007, a falling bullet crashed into an ambulance, and about 15 years ago a paramedic was struck in the helmet by a bullet.

“Our policy hasn’t changed,” Tate said.