Teen's friends, family left bewildered at near fatal shooting

Stunned and sleepless, friends and family of Marshall Coulter gathered on the porch of the teen’s Elysian Fields Avenue home Saturday morning to express bewilderment, anger and sorrow about a shooting the day before that nearly took the 14-year-old boy’s life.

Coulter remains hospitalized in critical condition after allegedly being shot by Merritt Landry, a 33-year-old Faubourg Marigny resident who, authorities said, fired a gun at the boy after discovering him in his fenced-in front yard at about 2 a.m. Friday.

A New Orleans Police Department arrest warrant estimated that Landry was about 30 feet away from Coulter, who is not identified, when he fired the bullet striking the unarmed teenager in the head. Detectives made that calculation based on the distance between the one spent bullet casing retrieved from the scene and Coulter’s blood left on the ground.

Landry told police that as he approached the boy, Coulter made a “thwarted move, as if to reach for something,” at which time he shot him.

But in the warrant, police concluded that Landry should be arrested for attempted second-degree murder, finding that the “victim was not armed, was not attempting to enter the residence, was not posing an imminent threat to Merritt Landry.”

Detectives also noted that another witness provided a statement that differed from Landry’s, although they provided no details.

Pending the outcome of the criminal case, Landry was suspended without pay from his city job as building inspector for the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Landry bonded out of jail Friday evening after a $100,000 bail was set by Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich. A status hearing was set for Thursday.

A friend of Landry’s with video cameras posted on a nearby business said they captured two teenagers riding bicycles outside Landry’s property. One of the teens can be seen climbing over the iron fence outside the house in the 700 block of Mandeville Street.

Friends and family said that whatever he was up to early Friday morning, Marshall Coulter didn’t deserve to get shot in the head.

“He will never be the same again,” said Clarissa Keller, who lives at the Elysian Fields address with Marshall’s brother Brandon and their 1-year-old son.

Referring to Coulter by his nickname, Keller said “Uncle Popeye” had been “caught up with the wrong people at the wrong time.”

Keller said the night he got shot, Marshall Coulter had left the house around 10 p.m. to take out the garbage — but never came back inside.

She alluded to curfew violations and other small-time burglaries that the boy had been caught up in, but insisted that Coulter was a good kid who loved his nieces and nephews.

“The next thing we knew, we were getting a phone call that said Popeye had been shot,” Keller said.

“I love Marshall,” Keller added, “I really just see him being with the wrong crowd, trying to fit in with the wrong people. He’s not crazy, he’s not stupid — he’s just a follower. Now he’s got a big hole in his head.”

The youth, she said, had struggled with depression since his stepfather, David Douglas, died a couple of years ago from esophageal cancer.

“He raised him as his own child before he passed,” Keller said. “David died in this house, and Marshall was in the house when he died.”

Coulter’s grandmother was sitting on a white plastic chair on the second-story porch, saying little as Keller described Marshall’s struggles following the death of his stepfather.

She looked up upon hearing Keller’s comment and said, “That’s why he’s traumatized!”

Keller said whenever she’d ask the troubled youth what was bothering him, he’d say, “I’m missing my daddy.”

He liked lasagna and pizza, playing the drums and watching comedies and horror movies, Keller said. “My son misses him, and wants him to come home. But he’s not going to be the same Marshall again.”

Keller also spoke up on behalf of Coulter’s mother, Sarah Coulter, who was grieving on the porch with the boy’s grandmother and Marshall’s friends and siblings.

Marshall is one of eight children, Keller said.

“She’s a good mother,” Keller said. “I wish she was my mother. Marshall had a lot going on, and she was always there, trying to stay on top of it.”

Marshall struggled with attention-deficit disorder, Keller noted, saying the family would deal with whatever came next.

“When he gets out of the hospital,” she said, “we’ll all take turns taking care of him.”

Keller visited with the boy after finishing work at her job at a French Quarter hotel on Friday, and hadn’t slept since.

“I talked to him,” she said. “I said, ‘We all want our baby back here. I really want you to pull through.’ He can hear, and he was able to squeeze my hand,” she said. “He squeezed it real hard.”

Advocate staff writer
Claire Galofaro contributed to this report.