A midday shooting at a cell phone store on South Sherwood Forest Boulevard left the business owner and another man dead Friday, and Baton Rouge police combed the area for evidence and collected surveillance video with the hope that it could help them solve the case quickly.

The shooting was reported around 12:30 p.m. at Wise Communications, which is near the Interstate 12 overpass and across from Podnuh's Barbecue on a busy commercial thoroughfare filled with strip malls and restaurants. 

The deaths were among four homicides in the city Friday, pushing the year's total to 103, according to unofficial records maintained by The Advocate. Baton Rouge has had more than 100 homicides in a year just once before.

Dozens of people gathered outside the crime-scene tape Friday afternoon, including several relatives of the store owner, whose name hasn't been released yet. He was shot inside the store while the second body lay outside, a short distance away. The glass door of the business had been shot out. 

Baton Rouge police were not able to release many details about what happened since the investigation was just getting started. 

"One thing I can confirm is this was very bold," said police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr., referring to how the double homicide occurred in the middle of the afternoon and in such a busy area. 

He said police are searching for at least one suspected shooter. A helicopter circled the area Friday afternoon.

Witnesses reported hearing at least nine shots. 

Several people who work in the area also said Wise Communications has been around for years, so long that they used to sell pagers before switching exclusively to cell phones. The store sells phones and service plans in addition to repairing broken devices. 

Police haven't confirmed whether the shooting occurred during a robbery or for some other reason.

People who knew the store owner spoke fondly of him, describing him as a friend. They said he was a pleasant man and familiar face along this part of Sherwood Forest Boulevard, just south of I-12.

His family members embraced in a parking lot next to the store Friday afternoon, weeping silently and holding onto each other for support. They declined to comment on what happened, the news of their loss still just hours old.

Police cordoned off a large area that stretched across Sherwood Forest Boulevard and blocked traffic for hours, leaving drivers no choice but to detour around the scene. Traffic started flowing a little more once the coroner's vans were no longer parked in the street, but the area remained congested late Friday afternoon. 

Employees of some nearby restaurants and offices were stuck at work even after their shifts ended, waiting for police to clear the scene so they could drive home. Many expressed shock at a brazen display of violence.

The double homicide came several hours after another fatal shooting reported that morning at an Airline Highway motel, which marked the parish's 100th homicide of 2020, according to unofficial records maintained by The Advocate. Another killing Friday night pushed the total to 103. Gun violence has been surging both in Baton Rouge and in other cities across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the weeks surrounding the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are typically more violent than most.

Annual homicides in East Baton Rouge have surpassed 100 just once before: in 2017, which became the most murderous year to date with 106 killings parishwide. The year 2020 is on track to shatter that previous record. 


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.