A year after errant gunfire took the life of Arabian Gayles, a shooting that epitomized the collateral damage wrought by New Orleans’ widespread gang violence, family members said Thursday that the slain 11-year-old girl may finally rest in peace after six men were charged in her death.
A seven-count indictment, issued late Wednesday by a special grand jury, brought the prospect of closure within reach for Gayles’ family, who has endured 12 months of uncertainty that has only compounded their loss.
The hail of bullets that ripped through Gayles’ Carrollton home struck her as she was holding a 1-year-old baby — an infant whose life was spared in a Labor Day shooting that injured two other people and outraged the city.
“We’re very happy because we can get our rest now,” said Tracy Moffett, Gayles’ aunt. “My sister has peace now, too. She won’t forget it, but she can calm her nerves and everything is all right. She knows everyone who has been a part of the murder is in jail.”
The authorities remained reticent about the details of the crime, which interim New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison blamed on one gang “trying to rob the other one in a drug deal gone bad.”
The shooting happened shortly after midnight Sept. 2, 2013, in the 1300 block of Gen. Ogden Street, not far from the Jefferson Parish line. A neighbor at the time recalled hearing at least six gunshots followed by the sound of a car speeding away. Gayles’ 11-year-old cousin, Paulreiona Cary, was shot in the hand, while 38-year-old Tommy Briggs was shot in the arm.
A sixth-grader at Lafayette Academy Charter School who had been practicing for dance team auditions at the time of her death, Gayles was struck by stray bullets that ripped through the wall of her home. She received several wounds, including one to the head, and was taken to a hospital, where she died hours later.
Several days after the shooting, hundreds of mourners gathered at Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ for an emotional funeral service, where the girl’s death was condemned by city officials as an act of senseless violence.
“It was a big deal,” the Rev. Jermaine Hampton said Thursday. “The young lady was very, very loved in this community, and everybody knew her.”
The indictment charges that all six men conspired to rob Keith Ward and Cary Bass, though it wasn’t clear whether Ward and Bass were at Gayles’ home or had a relationship with the girl’s family. Four defendants — Chris Arana, 20; Terry “T-Skinny” Green, 20; Jermaine Scott, 20; and Jacshaun “Ruger” Griffin, 18 — were charged with first-degree murder in Gayles’ death. They also were charged with three counts of attempted murder.
Two other men, Ronnell Martin and Roderick Taylor, were charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and being an accessory after the fact.
The authorities identified Arana and Martin as members of the “Breadwinners (M-Unit)” gang and Green, Griffin and Scott as members of the MMG street gang.
Arana, Martin and Taylor were arrested Thursday, while the other three suspects were already behind bars on unrelated charges. “Every one of these individuals has a criminal history,” Harrison said, “and many of the charges include carrying of illegal weapons.”
A search warrant filed last month said federal and local authorities believe the drug-dealing MMG gang has “operated within the 8th Ward of New Orleans and committed numerous shootings and homicides.” Five of the gang’s members were indicted in federal court last year, accused of distributing at least 280 grams of crack cocaine and possessing several high-powered rifles.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, addressing reporters with Harrison at an afternoon news conference, vowed to prosecute the suspects “to the fullest extent of the law” and seek “the most severest of penalties.” Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty, he said, calling capital punishment “an option that is available to us.”
“We will not stop until we get everyone who is responsible for violent acts that take place in this city,” Cannizzaro added. “This is an act of violence that has been perpetrated upon the most innocent in our community, and the people responsible for this should be made to pay.”
Harrison attributed the break in the case to “good police work,” the support of the community — he said investigators received tips from the public — and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that have sought to stem the city’s rampant gun violence through a multiple-agency gang task force. NOPD homicide detectives, he said, worked “around the clock to find the individuals responsible for this tragic incident and bring them to justice.”
“Our message today is clear,” Harrison said. “We will continue to be relentless in our pursuit to go after dangerous individuals who are terrorizing the streets of our neighborhood and committing these violent acts.”
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