Unknown attackers who fired wildly into a huge crowd at Bunny Friend Park on Sunday night left 17 people wounded, including a 10-year-old boy and one victim who may never walk again — an outburst of violence that authorities said Monday likely was gang-related.
The hail of bullets started about 6:15 p.m. in the park, a square-block patch of green in the heart of the Upper 9th Ward, as hundreds of mostly young revelers gathered to watch an unauthorized DJ set and music video taping.
Below is video from the scene just before gunfire erupted. Mobile/tablet users: Click here to see the video.
One victim said that at first, she thought the fusillade was another false alarm. A few people at the party had taken off running earlier that evening, and it turned out to be nothing. So she stood there near the basketball court until she realized the chaos was real this time.
The 21-year-old, who asked not to be identified because the shooters are still at large, began running toward Gallier Street on the park’s downriver edge as two groups of gunmen fired what witnesses said sounded like as many as 50 bullets across the crowded park.
The victim said she felt a sharp pain in her leg and knew she had been hit. A friend began loading her into a car before they spotted an ambulance nearby. Once she arrived at University Medical Center, there was more frenzy, the victim said, as doctors ran “everywhere trying to help everybody.”
“I’m not going to no more DJs. I’m serious,” said the woman who was shot. She was released from the hospital Monday with a bullet still lodged in her buttocks.
It was at least the third time in the past couple of years that New Orleans was left reeling from such a callously indiscriminate burst of violence. In 2013, 19 revelers at a Mother’s Day second-line parade were caught in shooting between rival drug dealers. Last year, 10 bystanders found themselves on the wrong section of Bourbon Street as a man sprayed bullets after a petty dispute; a 21-year-old nursing student was shot and died in the hospital.
Police said none of the 17 victims Sunday had life-threatening wounds, another apparent stroke of luck that mirrored the Mother’s Day shooting.
However, two of the patients still at University Medical Center were listed in critical condition, and two more were in guarded condition. Ten of the victims were women and seven were men, authorities said. Most were under 21.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu decried “this brazen act of violence, an act that I think is akin to domestic terrorism.”
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said the crowd gathered in the park after DJs advertised on social media for a music video shoot. The unsanctioned event quickly attracted hundreds of participants, many of whom came after the end of an unrelated second-line hosted by the Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club.
Officers were just a block away, preparing to shut down the block party in the park, when the first bullets started flying.
Harrison said the violence was likely gang-related, but police have not publicly identified any suspects or possible motives.
Detectives put an intense focus on combing social media for leads. Officers canvassed door-to-door in the Upper 9th Ward and called crime lab technicians back to the park at least twice Monday.
Police were also leaning on the event’s organizers for information.
“We know who organized it, and we’re working with that person and others,” Harrison said. He declined to identify the event’s promoter.
Posts circulating on social media identified a musician known as DJ Ray as one of the performers in the park, but he said that was “false advertising.” DJ Ray said another performer had asked him to DJ in the park but that he had backed out at the last minute because of a lack of equipment.
“I didn’t have nothing to do with it,” he said. “I wasn’t out there.”
Whoever was behind the set, the music was still playing when the shooting prompted what witnesses called a “stampede.” The hundreds of people caught in the park scrambled over each other and a chain link fence to safety.
“When the bullets started ringing out, nobody could go nowhere,” said James Carter, who lives nearby. “They were like sardines jammed in a can.”
Carter watched as the crowd ran from one end of the park to the other, trying to avoid the bullets. Bystanders dove over each other and ducked under his house for safety.
Bloodied gauze pads, crime scene tape and a child’s bicycle still dotted the park hours after the shooting. Abandoned belongings, including one woman’s ID card, testified to the panicked scramble.
Carter said that about a half-hour before the shooting, he had warned people in his house not to go outside even for a cigarette. He said he had a bad feeling about the large crowd massing inside Bunny Friend, which he described as usually a tranquil neighborhood park.
Rapper James “JRock” Jones said he had just gotten off the mic at the event when the shooting started. He ran for a nearby empty lot and lost his car keys in the process. He returned to the scene Sunday night and again Monday morning in a vain effort to find them.
“I’m so mad,” Jones said. “I can’t even explain it how mad I am.”
Both Landrieu and Harrison pleaded for the public to come forward with any information about the shooting. They said they were frustrated that more of the hundreds in attendance at the park had not offered any tips.
“There were over 300 to 500 people there last night. A lot of cellphones, a lot of cameras, a lot of video,” Landrieu said. “All of that stuff is out there. If you want to take back your community, you have to help us.”