7th Ward second-line shooting injures 19

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- At least 19 people were shot during a brass band parade through the 7th Ward on Sunday, Mother's Day. Police work the 1300 block of Frenchmen Street for clues.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- At least 19 people were shot during a brass band parade through the 7th Ward on Sunday, Mother's Day. Police work the 1300 block of Frenchmen Street for clues.

In a shooting so brazen that it shocked a city hardened by recurrent gun violence, 19 people were rushed to local hospitals after gunmen opened fire on hundreds who had turned out for an annual Mother’s Day second line parade in the 7th Ward.

The attackers sprayed the crowd with bullets, despite the fact that police were embedded in the parade and several of the revelers were children.

The victims included 10 adult men, seven adult women, a 10-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, said officer Garry Flot, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman. The 10-year-olds suffered graze wounds, as did most of the victims, Flot said. Many of the victims’ injuries were not serious, he said.

Jeb Tate, a spokesman for New Orleans EMS, said three of the nine people paramedics rushed to Interim LSU Public Hospital following the shooting were in critical condition.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu visited several of the victims in their hospital rooms, then, in a somber tone, told reporters that “the specialness of the day doesn’t seem to interrupt the relentless drumbeat of violence on the streets of New Orleans. ... It’s got to stop.”

One of the victims was Deborah “Big Red” Cotton, a freelance reporter for Gambit, who was covering the parade for the newspaper. Editor Kevin Allman on Sunday evening said Cotton was in “guarded but stable condition.”

The second line, which has been held annually on Mother’s Day since 2001, was organized by the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

Edward Buckner, the club’s president, said the event is one that draws participants from around the city, despite its roots in the old St. Bernard Housing Project.

Police said the parade was about two blocks long when it began in the 1800 block of Elysian Fields Avenue about 1 p.m. Bucker estimated the crowd to number several hundred as the procession headed down the avenue toward the river. Folks began to gather about 8 a.m., he said.

But the joy of the day was shattered before the parade could even really begin.

The parade, lead by the To Be Continued Brass Band, made it four blocks when it turned right onto North Villere Street and “all hell broke loose,” Bucker said. Guns went off. Some people fell to the ground to protect themselves from the bullets; others ran for their lives.

“We didn’t even make four city blocks before some crap like this happened,” Bucker said later from his home, which was the parade’s starting point. He called the shootings an “act of terrorism.”

“We didn’t see it coming,” he said.

One neighbor who lives on the corner where the shooting happened said she was just returning home when she heard what sounded like firecrackers popping on the corner. That was followed by a crush of people who fled the commotion. One man ran down the street as blood dripped down his body.

The neighbor, who declined to give her name, sat on her steps smoking a cigarette and pointed to the blood on the sidewalk.

“This isn’t good, not for the children, not for no one,” she said.

Michael Lee, a 29-year-old senior from the Ohio State University, and Chelsea Hinshaw, a 27-year-old junior, were at the parade while in town on a service-learning project.

The two brought a camera hoping to document the unique cultural celebration but instead found themselves in the middle of what looked like a war zone.

Lee said he heard five gunshots; Hinshaw said she heard 10. They saw everyone drop to the ground and “we just kind of followed suit,” Lee said.

After the gunfire stopped, some people began to run, screaming. Others stayed on the ground.

“For at least a whole 45 minutes I was in a daze,” Bucker said. “We were going from one person to another to another who were down (to make sure they were OK).”

Lee and Hinshaw sought cover behind a nearby brick building and walked over several people on the ground on their way to safety. “I had an adrenaline rush, but more than anything I think I was confused,” Hinshaw said. “I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, but we didn’t know if the shooter was still around.”

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said investigators are searching for three men, and it appears two different types of guns were used in the shooting.

Officers who were escorting the parade saw the men run away from the route, Serpas said. One of them ran on Frenchmen Street toward North Claiborne Avenue before he disappeared. Serpas described that possible gunman as an African-American man between 18 and 22 years old who wore a white T-shirt and blue jean shorts. Descriptions of the other two men were not immediately available.

Serpas said that it was too early to know what sparked the shooting but vowed quick action.

“The Police Department will find these guys,” he said.

NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden said Sunday evening that beyond interviews with witnesses and collecting evidence, investigators were already looking for surveillance video in the area.

“This is an extremely unusual occurrence, and we’re confident that we will make swift arrests,” Braden said in an email.

Serpas called the gunmen “selfish” and said they are part of a culture of people “who oftentimes don’t care who’s around.”

Landrieu said there was no reason to believe that the gunmen were part of the second-line. He decried the actions and said that those responsible will face a jury.

“The message this week with the indictments handed down by the District Attorney for the 110’ers … is these kinds of incidents are not going to go unanswered,” Landrieu said. “We’re going to be very, very aggressive.”

The mayor said that since there were hundreds of people at the corner the men will not be able to remain anonymous for long.

Bucker, the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club president, said that he and his members would meet soon to discuss the shooting and to determine if they would hold the parade again. Mainly, Bucker said, he wants to respect the victims and their families.

“We definitely have to meet because it was such a tragedy,” Bucker said.

He said that the group will work the NOPD in an effort to find whoever is responsible for Sunday’s chaos.

“We want to send a shout out to the shooters: We intend to do everything in our power … to have them convicted to the fullest extent of the law. You hurt seniors and babies. Hurting anybody is bad, but it’s especially bad when it’s our babies.”