The gunman who opened fire in a quiet Gentilly neighborhood on New Year’s Day, claiming the lives of a father and son as they worked on a pickup in their driveway, appears to have targeted the younger victim, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said Friday.
“Preliminary information is that this was not a random act,” Harrison said at a midday news conference in front of NOPD headquarters. “It appears that (the son) was actually the intended target.”
Police offered few details about the city’s first two murders of 2015, and Harrison would not say whether detectives have identified any suspects or determined a motive. He did say investigators believe there was only one gunman.
“The investigation is ongoing,” he said, declining to say whether the gunman had been on foot or in a vehicle. “I can’t really speak to specifics.”
Gunfire erupted about noon Thursday in the 200 block of Warrington Drive, disrupting the holiday serenity of a residential area abutting the Dillard University campus. Several neighbors interviewed Friday, who declined to be named for fear of the at-large shooter, said they had at first mistaken the successive shots for leftover New Year’s Eve fireworks.
It was only when they emerged from their homes that they realized the carnage: two men shot and a crime scene littered with bullet casings.
The father, 64-year-old Desmond Lange Sr., lay on the porch, where he was pronounced dead. His son, Desmond Lange Jr., 42, was taken to a hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds.
“The reason why, we may never know,” said Kathy Lange, a sister of the elder victim. “We just hope that whoever is responsible would come forward, or someone who knows something please come forward.”
Another sister, Barbara LeFrere, said both slain men had always looked out for their family. “They were always there for us,” she said. “You’re not going to kill our spirit, no matter how hard you try.”
The shooting sent a shock wave down Warrington Drive, where friends and neighbors were at once grief-stricken and perplexed as to why someone would open fire on the Langes.
“It’s usually a very quiet and peaceful neighborhood,” Harrison said, “so it was as surprising and shocking to us as it was to them.”
Neighbors who weren’t too afraid to speak to reporters described the two men as hard-working and upstanding. The younger victim drove an airport shuttle, they said, while the elder Lange worked for the city.
“I don’t want anybody to be thinking this family is jacked up,” said one young man who lives on the block. “This is not a bad family, and they didn’t deserve it.”
“They lived the model life,” added an older neighbor, who began crying as he replayed the horrific images of Thursday. “They went to work every day. It’s just crazy.”
The shooting took a husband and son from Leslie Lange, a woman neighbors said already had lost another son to gunfire about 10 years ago.
One woman who ventured out of her home to rake leaves Friday said that incident — the shooting death a couple of blocks away of Jeffrey Michael Lange, 29 — had been the last significant episode of violence she could recall in the neighborhood.
“It’s scary,” she said, “because this is almost like a little college-university area. We’ve got kids walking to and from Dillard.”
Garry Flot, a New Orleans police spokesman, said no motive was ever established in the March 2, 2005, shooting death of Jeffrey Lange, whose body was found inside his vehicle in the 400 block of Warrington Drive. Flot said that case had been “cleared by exception.” Although no arrest was ever made, the alleged shooter, Vernell Esprit, 26, was himself fatally shot in April 2005.
“We’ve got too many young people that’s out there that’s committing all these murders,” said Jerry Lange, brother of Desmond Lange Sr. “If you’re bad enough to shoot somebody, you ought to be brave enough to turn yourself in. Whatever consequences come with that, you’re on your own.”
The double murder cast a pall over the progress Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has touted in lowering the city’s stubbornly high murder rate. The city recorded 150 murders in 2014, a slight decrease from the year before, even as non-fatal shootings rose by 23 percent.
“While murder is down, we did see that the shootings are up,” Harrison acknowledged at Friday’s news conference, addressing reporters over the sound of emergency-vehicle sirens. “That’s going to speak to our manpower; that’s going to speak to the way we are able to police hot-spot areas in the community.
“Right now, we’re responding to them, but what we want to do as we grow — and we’re growing — is be able to prevent those.”
WWL-TV reporter Paul Murphy contributed to this report.
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