As far as authorities can tell, Gregory Howard, a veteran firefighter from New Orleans, had nothing to do with the confrontation that erupted outside a nightclub in Memphis last weekend. 

He was in Memphis with some colleagues to compete in a basketball tournament for first responders. They had wrapped up the first set of games on Friday and were out for the evening when they approached a club called Mynt, where a group of people complaining about the DJ's music had just been kicked out. 

Tim McConnell, the New Orleans Fire Department's superintendent, said Wednesday that Howard and his companions had decided against heading into the club and had turned around when gunshots rang out early Saturday. 

A stray bullet struck Howard in the head, killing the married father of two instantly.  

"The circumstances behind this are just so, so senseless," McConnell said. 

Authorities have said they do not believe Howard was the intended target of the gunfire. 

Howard's body was flown Wednesday morning from Memphis to Louis Armstrong International Airport, where his colleagues received his flag-draped casket and placed it in a hearse.

From there, they escorted Howard's family to Boyd Family Funeral Home in New Orleans East, where funeral arrangements were still being finalized.

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Standing outside the funeral home, McConnell said it was difficult to grasp how the department could lose an important member to such random violence. 

He acknowledged it was "frustrating" that nobody had been arrested yet in Howard's killing, though he said he knew investigators with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office were working hard to capture whoever was responsible.

"I would encourage anyone involved with this to come forward and help get some closure for this family," McConnell said.

Howard graduated from Sarah T. Reed High School and earned a marketing degree from Southern University at New Orleans. He worked as a Frito-Lay merchandiser, Harrah's Casino valet driver and Lakeside Toyota porter before joining the Fire Department.

In November, Howard — who worked at the fire station at 4500 Old Gentilly Road — was promoted from firefighter to fire apparatus operator, meaning he drove vehicles such as a ladder truck.

He was less than a month away from his 10th anniversary with the department when he was killed.

Howard's survivors include his widow, Dominique, and two young sons.

"His family has a tough road ahead," McConnell said. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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