As they do most evenings, the children who live in the Zion City neighborhood made their way outside Tuesday to play with one another.
But what had been a calm gathering turned chaotic when two men walked up about 7:10 p.m. and opened fire at South Salcedo and Erato streets, apparently indiscriminately, New Orleans police said.
A 3-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy were reported Tuesday night to be in critical condition after being hit by bullets meant for someone who authorities said was not even at the scene. Another male victim, age 15, was reported to be stable.
Late Wednesday morning, the toddler was stable, police said. The 16-year-old was also reported to be stable at that time, but police later said he remained in critical condition.
While the gunmen remained at large, police hinted that they might soon catch the suspects.
The wounded toddler, Na’Tasha “Minnie” Thompson, was playing in the driveway of her home in the 1300 block of South Salcedo Street when the men opened fire.
Her sister, Brianne Thompson, said the gunmen walked down Erato Street toward Salcedo from South Lopez Street and showered the street corner in gunfire. There was a scramble, as people tried to dodge the hail of bullets.
Brianne Thompson, 19, began to run but quickly turned back when she realized her baby sister was still in harm’s way. She was too late.
A bullet ripped through Minnie’s lower backside and made its way out through her stomach, according to her mother, Latasha Thompson, who was running errands when the shooting happened.
Brianne Thompson said she didn’t recognize the shooters and was stunned something like that would happen near her home.
“It’s all families,” she said of the neighborhood. “Ain’t nothing but children out here.”
Paramedics called to the scene rushed Minnie to Interim LSU Hospital, where she underwent surgery for five hours, her mother said.
By Wednesday afternoon, the girl was breathing on her own but still heavily sedated.
The progress was promising for her family. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but almost there,” Latasha Thompson said.
She said she expects Minnie will be moved in coming days to Children’s Hospital because of the special care she will need from pediatricians.
Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas told reporters shortly after the shooting that investigators already had received good leads but had not identified any suspects.
He said the unknown gunmen fled in a white, four-door Nissan Murano with a sun roof.
“Bottom line here, the people of New Orleans always stand up and say, ‘Babies are off limits, and we’re going to talk to the police, and we’re going to tell the police what we know,’” Serpas said. “And (6th District) Commander (Bob) Bardy and his team are going to bring these people to the prosecutor, and we’re going to get some people convicted.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Bardy spoke before a cluster of TV cameras and reporters gathered at his district headquarters for an update on the investigation.
While police have not yet identified a motive in the shooting, he said, they believe the gunmen were looking for someone who was not at the scene by the time they got there.
He said detectives have tentative identifications on the suspects and suggested their time on the lam might be limited.
“I got a funny feeling soon we’ll meet again,” he told the reporters.
Anyone with information is asked to contact 6th District detectives at (504) 658-6060 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.