In 2016, Caren Woodruff was going to finally write the concerto she had always wanted to compose. Her 28-year-old son Joshua was going to help her. A gifted pianist who had studied music at Harvard University, he had always taken naturally to composing, his mother said. All he had to do was sit down at the keyboard.
“Great, we’re on it,” she recalled him saying. “It’s going to happen this year.”
Instead, Joshua Woodruff was identified Tuesday as the victim of a brutal hit-and-run that took place in the French Quarter in the early hours of New Year’s Day, snuffing out a life family members described as happy and promising.
Visiting from California, Woodruff was struck while he was waiting for an Uber ride, police say. He was dragged for several miles, his body ending up across the Mississippi River in Algiers.
Authorities on Tuesday renewed their call for the public’s help in tracking down the driver. The Woodruff family is asking the perpetrator to come forward.
“We want the person who was driving to know that we forgive him or her, and we want that person to turn him or herself in. We need that,” said Joshua’s brother Ben, 30. “We have no interest in retribution, but we do want justice to be done here, so that other families don’t have to suffer the same hardship.”
Joshua Woodruff grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, before attending Harvard, where he graduated in 2011 with a major in music and a minor in economics. After a stint at a consulting firm and a job with an apartment listing website in San Francisco, he moved to Los Angeles in February to work for a start-up beverage company.
Caren Woodruff said that everywhere her son went, he made friends. Even though her heart is “in shreds,” her family has been comforted by messages from the more than 1,000 members of a Facebook memorial page. New Orleanians have posted many of those condolences.
Ben Woodruff said that at his wedding in October 2014, his brother was his best man. Joshua called in his sister for backup in a routine full of sight gags and jokes that is still discussed today.
“They had been planning it for over a decade,” Ben Woodruff said. “He knew that that day was going to come, and he knew that he was going to be the guy.”
Woodruff arrived in New Orleans on Dec. 30 with friends from work and college. His mother said he was excited to take in a city that he had only briefly visited before.
Just before he went out on New Year’s Eve, she said, he texted her and her husband: “Before the night begins, just wanted to say Happy New Year, and that I am so ridiculously thankful for you.”
His mother texted back a reminder: “Stay safe tonight.”
“I had to say that. I’m the mom,” she said.
Police said Woodruff was just outside the crosswalk near the corner of Decatur and Dumaine streets about 3:15 a.m., attempting to flag down an Uber ride after a night of celebrating, when the driver of a black, four-door sedan with tinted windows struck him.
The driver of the vehicle continued on after hitting Woodruff, first traveling against traffic on Madison Street, then heading downriver on Chartres Street. Police believe Woodruff was dragged until his body was dislodged from underneath the car on U.S. 90B West, near the Gen. de Gaulle Drive off-ramp. His badly damaged body was found about 3:45 a.m.
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the Orleans Parish coroner, said Woodruff’s death resulted from blunt force trauma.
The quickest route between the crash and the spot where Woodruff’s body was found is about 6 miles long, stretching over the Crescent City Connection.
NOPD Traffic Cmdr. Anthony “Buddy” Micheu declined to speculate Tuesday on whether the driver would have known that he or she was dragging the body.
“If you understood the way this body had ended up on the expressway, it was horrific,” said Micheu. “We’re not taking this case lightly.”
Micheu said police have reviewed more than 50 surveillance videos and seized 11 others in an effort to identify the driver. Police have released two surveillance images of the car they believe hit Woodruff, but thus far they have not been able to make out a license plate number.
Authorities will decide what charges to file after interviewing the driver, Micheu said. He urged the motorist to come forward either in person or through a lawyer.
Police asked anyone with more information on the hit-and-run to call NOPD Fatality Investigator Anthony Pontiff at (504) 658-6237 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.