Maria Alfred’s hand grenade — the sugary, alcoholic kind — had gotten warm, so the 20-year-old from Lafayette decided to freshen it up with some ice from down the hall on the seventh floor at the Blake Hotel in the 500 block of St. Charles Avenue, where she was staying Sunday night.
She returned to find two unfamiliar men sitting in her room, one in a chair and the other on her bed.
They both had guns.
“He was like, ‘Be quiet. Y’all got any money?’ ” she recalled one of them saying.
Alfred said the men robbed her of almost $300, one of two armed robberies committed at the hotel on Sunday, according to New Orleans police.
It was the latest in a series of brazen crimes in downtown New Orleans that have contributed to a growing sense of outrage over public safety.
Police officials used the speedy arrests that followed the incident as a chance to argue that their counter-measures are paying off.
Three men were arrested right outside the hotel for the stickups, according to police: Adeyemi Sylvest, 18; Denzel Smith, 19; and Joshua Jernigan, 21.
Soon after Alfred was robbed, a 23-year-old woman opened the door to her 11th-floor hotel room to find Jernigan pointing a gun at her face, according to police.
The woman grabbed the gun and screamed for help, at which point the man fled.
Police later found the suspects in a vehicle outside the hotel, where they were identified by witnesses and arrested. Officers found three handguns in the car, including one that had been reported stolen.
Alfred said in a phone interview Monday that she was still shaken by her visit to the city.
“They told me they were crazy down here, but I didn’t think they were that crazy,” she said.
She said she and her friends had first encountered the men who robbed them while on Bourbon Street earlier in the evening.
She said one of the suspects had attempted to strike up a conversation with one of her friends, who wasn’t interested, and the man continued to yell at them as they walked away.
The incident comes amid a rash of violent crimes in the French Quarter and Central Business District, stirring unease among those who live downtown, as well as those who sell the city as a safe place to visit.
Last week, protesters rallied at Jackson Square, calling on Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Superintendent Michael Harrison to do more to keep people safe.
According to the Police Department, there were 112 armed robberies in the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter and the CBD, in 2014. That’s 18 more than in 2013.
Harrison announced last week that he was doubling the size of a violent crime task force, and police said Monday that the new 16-person unit assisted in the latest arrests.
The NOPD said the unit made a total of eight arrests and seized four guns in the 8th District over the weekend.
Four minors were apprehended for curfew violations, one of whom was wanted for armed robbery and one of whom was in possession of a handgun, according to the department.
The task force also arrested 32-year-old Marc Chavez for possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia in the 700 block of Marigny Street.
Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls, who oversees the 8th District, said Monday that he felt the task force was responsible for a downturn in crime over the past few weeks, though he didn’t cite any statistics to back up the claim.
The task force is deployed in high-need areas between 6:25 p.m. and 3 a.m. According to Walls, the extra units on the street “act as a visible deterrent” to criminals.
A manager at the Blake Hotel declined to comment on Sunday’s robberies.
Spring Drake, sales manager at the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, which is just down the street from the Blake, said she wouldn’t be sharing news of the incident with guests.
“Many of the guests are on vacation,” Drake said. “We don’t want to put fear in their mind.”