New Orleans — New Orleans police continue to search for clues in Sunday’s slaying of an Illinois teenager doing volunteer work in the city, while the boy’s family sadly waits for his body to be brought back home.
Joseph Massenburg, 18, was gunned down Sunday night while taking a walk near the home where he was staying with a group of young adults doing volunteer work in the city, according to police. Officers were called out to the intersection of Eagle and Birch streets around 11 p.m. and found Massenburg lying in the street with multiple gunshot wounds. He later died at a local hospital.
Officer Frank Robertson, a police spokesman, said authorities had no new information to report on the slaying Wednesday.
Massenburg was from Matteson, Ill., and his parents, Andre and Sharon Renee Massenburg, lead a church in Chicago. The victim’s father said his family is still trying to wrap its collective mind around his son’s death.
“We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Massenburg said. He called his son a dedicated servant, who was in New Orleans doing what he’d been taught to do his entire life.
“He was a giving young man. … He’s a preacher’s kid, so of course he’s used to being a part of the community.”
The victim was in New Orleans as part of a 10-month stint with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, his father said. Massenburg was volunteering with the group before he joined the United States Army, his father said.
He said when Joseph agreed to join AmeriCorps, his family had no idea where he would be stationed, but even if they knew he was coming to New Orleans they wouldn’t have opposed it. Massenburg said his family’s church is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago, and they are familiar with the level of violence in many urban neighborhoods.
“You can’t pick and choose things in life,” the pastor said. “You can’t run from your people, you can’t hide from your people.”
Massenburg called his son’s death a symptom of a larger and more troubling problem with violence in America’s urban neighborhoods. While it’s terrible what happened to his son, he noted that it’s terrible whenever it happens to anyone’s child. The terrible nature of the crime should spur people to want to get involved and make a difference, he said.
“This is life. … This is the tragic reality of the inner cities,” the pastor said. “This is reality. This is what’s going on in our inner cities. … No one’s kid should have to suffer this.”
Kate Raferty, the director of the NCCC, called Massenburg’s death a tragedy in an official statement. She also said that the safety of the group’s members is a “top priority.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Massenburg family. This young man was serving his country, making a difference through service to others,” she wrote. “The safety of our members is a top priority. We work closely with local partners to provide a safe environment for all of our members in which to serve and live.”
Massenburg was part of a team of about a dozen 18- to 24-year-olds working with Green Light New Orleans, according to AmeriCorps. That group makes energy efficient improvements to homes in the city and has been working with the NCCC since 2008.
“Everybody at Green Light New Orleans is deeply saddened by this tragic incident,’’ Andreas Hoffman said in an email. “Joe was a devoted W member, who came to New Orleans to help the community. It is an unacceptable tragedy that violence has taken the life of this young man. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Joseph Massenburg.’’
AmeriCorps reported that since 2008, roughly 17 teams of volunteers have worked with Green Light, she said. As part of Green Light’s sponsorship, it provides housing and “location awareness” training for volunteers coming into the city. That training is designed to warn volunteers about particular perils in the area where they are living and varies depending on the location, AmeriCorps reported. In a national park that might include instruction on avoiding bears, while in an urban area the training would be different.
Prior to being sent into an area, volunteers complete four to six weeks of training at regional centers throughout the country, according to the AmeriCorps website. Massenburg received his training at a facility in Vicksburg, Miss. There are roughly 900 AmeriCorps members in the city, and two groups participating in the same program as Massenburg, said Samantha Warfield, a spokeswoman for the group.
The NCCC has been sending volunteers to New Orleans since shortly after Katrina, and work can include assistance with disaster relief, food banks or energy efficiency projects. Massenburg’s group came to the city in March and will rotate to another part of the country after a few months of service, Warfield said.