When Faisal Puckett Jr. was 14, he wrote a letter to his father, who was less than halfway through a 30-year sentence for armed robbery.
“Dear Dad,” Puckett wrote. “Someone asked me how violence has affected my life. How can I answer that question without crying? You’ve missed 12 years of my life (due) to violence. It’s hard, but I’m making the best of it.”
Puckett’s raw, emotional letter helped him win a national anti-violence writing contest. He was named an “ambassador” for the National Campaign to Stop Violence. His prize was a trip to Washington, D.C., where he met then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
But as passionately as Puckett wrote, he could not escape New Orleans’ cycle of death. On Memorial Day , he was cut down, along with a friend of his since the fourth grade, in a blaze of bullets near the front door of a Broadmoor house.
Homicide detectives said Thursday they are looking for a “person of interest” who may have information on the unsolved double slaying of Puckett and Charles Bannister, who were both 18 when they died.
Police released three images of the man they are seeking, though they said he is not considered a suspect in the double homicide.
Although a New Orleans Police Department spokeswoman declined to confirm it, all three images appear to have been captured in the immediate wake of the killing, which happened about 11:30 a.m. in the 3300 block of Gen. Taylor Street.
The man being sought is black, appears to have dreadlocks and a beard, and was wearing a black Metallica T-shirt with blue jeans and white sneakers. In one of the images, he stands near a bicycle.
Police asked anyone with information about the killings or the identity and whereabouts of the man being sought to call homicide Detective Drew Deacon at (504) 658-5300.
Besides those images, officials have released little information about the killing, which happened as Bannister’s great-grandmother was preparing food for a Memorial Day cookout.
Puckett had slept on his friend’s couch the night before, according to his friend’s great-grandmother Myrtis Bannister, and both were hanging out near the front of the house when the shooting happened.
Myrtis Bannister, 74, said she was fixing hamburgers in the kitchen when the shooting started. By the time she was able to see what had happened, her great-grandson was lying on the front porch, and his friend, Puckett was lying inside the house near a stairway. Both died at the scene.
Killers don’t like to leave witnesses in New Orleans, Myrtis Bannister said. If she had been outside, she said, “they probably would have shot me, too.”
The families of both victims said they don’t know who would have wanted to kill the young men.
Puckett was attending Delgado Community College and working at the new Ace Hotel shortly before his death, according to his aunt, Nikki Roy, 31.
He had been arrested recently on illegal possession of stolen things and illegal carrying of a weapon in separate cases. Roy said she had a conversation with her nephew on the Wednesday before his death about how he needed to clean up his act.
“He felt like his friends were his friends, and he had to be loyal to them,” she said.
But Roy reminded her nephew about his four younger siblings and the woman to whom he had recently proposed. “If he did better for his self, then he would be able to create something for them,” she recalled telling him.
Days before his death, Roy said, her nephew went to an Army National Guard recruiter. He wanted to get out of New Orleans.
Charles Bannister had attended Sci Academy and then a ReNEW charter school, according to his mother, Karisha Bannister, 37. He played the cymbal in a school band, participated in a drill squad and proved popular with girls.
“The women loved him,” she said.
Charles Bannister worked at a McDonald’s restaurant and planned to find a job in the offshore oil rig industry. Like his friend, Karisha Bannister said, he wanted to make something of himself.
“From the fourth grade to their death, they were together,” she said. “They wasn’t even living their lives yet.”