Police seek information on slaying of AmeriCorps volunteer

New Orleans police are pleading with the public to provide information regarding the fatal shooting of an AmeriCorps volunteer last week, and Crimestoppers has doubled the available award to garner tips.

A day after roughly 150 to 200 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in honor of Joseph Massenburg, 18, police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said authorities have only received three or four Crimestoppers tips regarding the teenager’s death. He gathered with detectives and the Second District commander to urge the public to help police solve the crime.

Crimestoppers Executive Director Darlene Cusanza said the reward for information that leads to an indictment in the case is now up to $5,000.

“This is about bringing Joseph’s name to the mind of people in the city again,” Serpas said. “(This is) part of New Orleans saying we can do better; part of New Orleans saying we will do better.”

Massenburg was shot March 31 near Birch and Eagle streets in the West Carrollton neighborhood. Police said Massenburg was walking while talking on the phone near a home where he was staying with several other volunteers when he was shot multiple times. He died later at a hospital.

Police have not released a motive or suspect in the shooting, although authorities believe a white SUV might have fled the area shortly after the shooting. Serpas declined to discuss many details on the case, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

Massenburg’s death has garnered massive media attention because he was in the city working with Green Light New Orleans as part of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. Massenburg, who is from outside of Chicago, was working with a team of young volunteers who had only been in the city for a short time before his death, according to AmeriCorps officials.

In the wake of Massenburg’s death, AmeriCorps removed several other members of the National Civilian Community Corps from New Orleans, although the bulk of the group’s volunteers are still in the city. Massenburg’s family has said the young man was doing a stint with AmeriCorps before he planned to enlist in the U.S. Army.

Cusanza said Massenburg was in New Orleans trying to help when he was killed. The program Massenburg worked with installs energy efficient light bulbs in homes throughout the city. She asked the public to imagine the pain of his parents so far away or the friend he was talking to on the phone when he was killed.

“Can you imagine what this family and that friend are going through?” Cusanza asked. “Crimestoppers is here, really, to be the voice of the victim.”

Serpas said he’s confident that if residents know that police need information, they will come forward with details. He said tips have already been coming in about four different shootings a few blocks from where Massenburg was killed, and police made an arrest in a homicide a few blocks away Sunday. When asked about whether Massenburg’s slaying was a sign that volunteers in the city needed to consider their own security, Serpas quickly shot down that idea.

“I don’t think that’s the issue. New Orleans is safe,” the superintendent said. “We need people to talk; we need people to come forward.”