The long Thanksgiving weekend ended in an outbreak of shootings across New Orleans on Sunday, leaving at least two people dead, more than a dozen wounded and city officials searching for anyone who could help in the investigations.
The spate of violence began when a barrage of gunfire before 3:30 a.m. left numerous bloodied victims wounded in the 700 block of Canal Street as crowds of people fled in panic. New Orleans police later said there were 10 victims, two of whom were in critical condition at local hospitals.
Around midday, as the Canal Street investigation continued, police reported another shooting with multiple victims. This one, in the 2000 block of North Dorgenois Street, in the 7th Ward, left two people dead and two others wounded.
Another shooting occurred later Sunday afternoon in the 1300 block of St. Bernard Avenue. Police reported one male victim.
The Sunday shootings added to several others throughout New Orleans since Thanksgiving, as many families returned home to spend time with loved ones and tens of thousands of visitors arrived in town for the Bayou Classic football game Saturday night.
The shooting on Canal Street several hours later came as thousands of revelers from the annual game between Grambling State University and Southern University were still milling about downtown.
Shots rang out about 3:20 a.m. on the French Quarter side of the block of Canal Street between Bourbon and Royal streets. Witnesses reported hearing multiple shots and said crowds of people ran from the area, taking cover in nearby businesses.
"It was chaos," said security guard Don Yount, who was on duty at Unique Grocery in the 100 block of Royal when he heard about 25 shots fired. "It was so many people running in so many directions."
Kenneth Culbreth said he had gone inside the CVS at 800 Canal to make a quick purchase. When he emerged from the store moments later, it was into the middle of a crime scene.
“On my way out of the CVS, I heard pops,” he said. “It was so many I couldn’t keep count.”
Afterward, a stretch of Canal Street was littered with evidence markers that police typically use to denote where shell casings were found. All around the area, inside and outside the police tape, were signs of the season: holiday lights on poles and bushy, green wreaths adorning doors and windows.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said police had detained a “person of interest” in the shooting, but he provided no details and did not say if that person was a suspect. No arrests had been reported as of late Sunday afternoon, and police didn’t provide any updates throughout the day.
Ferguson said the area around Canal Street and the French Quarter had a larger-than-normal police presence due to the game, and officers were able to respond quickly. The officers were so close, in fact, that they initially believed they were being shot at, police said.
Yount, the security guard, said that hundreds of people were fleeing the scene when he ran toward it to check on a friend, a security guard at the McDonald’s at 711 Canal. Much of the shooting apparently took place in front of the restaurant.
As he moved around the block, he couldn't tell in the mass of people who the victims were, he said. People were running and falling down; some streamed into the store he was guarding.
"I turned the corner onto Canal and saw two victims on the ground," said Yount. His friend wasn’t hurt.
When the shooting stopped, 10 people had been hit, police said. The wounded were taken to University Medical Center and Tulane Medical Center. Two had sustained critical injuries.
A University Medical Center spokeswoman referred reporters seeking information on the injured to police. A Tulane spokeswoman said later Sunday that four of the five victims taken there had been discharged and the remaining person was in stable condition.
Information on the ages and sex of the victims was not available.
Facing one of the most violent days in her administration, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell offered support to the victims and their families and promised the city would find the shooter or shooters. She praised the fast response of police officers.
“The shootings on Canal Street early this morning were an ugly disruption of an otherwise beautiful holiday weekend,” Cantrell said in a prepared statement. “We will do everything we can to wrap the victims and their families in our love and support, and to bring the criminals responsible to justice.”
It was only hours later that another spasm of gun violence struck.
A little after noon, officers responded to a report of a shooting on North Dorgenois Street near Hardin Park. When they arrived, they discovered four men had been shot. Two died at the scene. The other two were taken to a hospital via ambulance.
The ages of the dead men were not released, but the injured were described as a 37-year-old man and 42-year-old man.
At the scene, friends and family members of the victims were crying and demanding that police give them answers.
Some neighborhood residents reported hearing what sounded like perhaps a dozen gunshots.
The shootings also marked a setback for Cantrell and other city leaders who have presided over a steep drop in violent crimes. In 2018, nonfatal shootings fell by 28% from the previous year, and police said there were 146 homicides in the city, a 47-year low. Through October, New Orleans was on pace for another sharp drop in such violence in 2019.
Three years ago, the festive atmosphere of the Bayou Classic weekend was also shattered by bullets. An argument on Bourbon Street, just around the corner from the site of Sunday’s melee, led to a gunfight that injured nine people and killed one.
Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for anyone who can provide information on those responsible for Sunday's violence. Police asked anyone with information to contact them at (504) 658-6080. People with information can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously at (504) 822-1111.