A botched stick-up that ends with two young men shot doesn’t usually generate international headlines about New Orleans, where police have recorded 30 homicides and more than 100 shootings so far this year.
However, news that the two victims of a Tuesday morning shooting were Australian college students on vacation has brought foreign TV crews flying to the city.
Police are now searching for surveillance video and interviewing witnesses in a hunt for three suspects, after what they suspect was a drug deal gone wrong.
Both of the victims were students at Curtin University’s Western Australian School of Mines, according to a statement from the school. After attending a “mining games” competition in Montana that wrapped up Sunday, they traveled to New Orleans on a “private holiday.”
The two men wound up at a French Quarter bar called the Swamp, 516 Bourbon St., early Tuesday morning, according to police.
Fourth District Lt. Preston Bax said the men, ages 21 and 23, were approached by an unknown man who offered to sell them drugs. The victims left the bar and followed the man to a four-door, dark-colored sedan with a waiting driver, police said.
The driver whisked the tourists across the river to Algiers, police said, telling them along the way that it would cost hundreds of dollars to buy the drugs they wanted.
The men told the driver they didn’t have the money, according to authorities, but he took them to the corner of L.B. Landry Avenue and Shepard Street, at the site of the former Fischer housing development.
As soon as the men got out of the car, Bax said, a third man appeared and curtly told them, “You know what time it is.”
The third man then asked for the tourists’ money, according to police, and when the pair said they did not have any, he shot them. The man then hopped into the sedan with the driver and fled the scene.
Bax said at a Wednesday meeting for police commanders that all three men were “definitely working in tandem.”
Police have not identified any suspects, but Bax said officers are working “good leads,” including a witness who saw the tourists talking with at least one of the men in the bar before the shooting.
Officers responded to a report of the shooting about 4:15 a.m. Tuesday.
One of the victims was shot in the stomach and one in the chest, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
Both men remain in University Medical Center, recovering from their injuries, police said. A spokeswoman for the hospital declined to comment on their condition, citing medical privacy laws.
Australia, with a population of 24 million, recorded 264 homicides in the most recent year for which data are available. New Orleans, with a population of about 384,000, notched 165 last year.
Those vastly different rates of violent crime may help explain why the shooting has aroused so much interest Down Under. Australian newspapers and television and radio stations are following the story intently, with some even sending crews to New Orleans to provide more coverage.
Curtin University spokeswoman Julia Nicol said family members of the two victims, as well as the director of their school, were flying to the United States to be by their side.
Australians have encountered gun violence while visiting New Orleans before. A young woman who also was from the western part of the country was among the victims of the infamous Bourbon Street shooting that wounded nine and killed one in June 2014.
This isn’t the first time this year, meanwhile, that a promised drug deal in Algiers has served as a pretext for a holdup that went bad.
On March 10, according to police, 22-year-old and 19-year-old men fell prey to an attempted armed robbery after trying to buy drugs in the parking lot at Julien’s Discount store in the 4500 block of Woodland Drive about 10:45 a.m.
“A gun battle ensued,” according to a police offense log. Both of the men shot were taken to the hospital with wounds that were not life-threatening.