The latest victim of fatal gun violence in New Orleans had not even been born yet, but he had a name.
A shocking shooting Wednesday night in New Orleans East claimed the lives of a pregnant woman just days away from giving birth, her boyfriend — the Big Chief of the Black Feather Mardi Gras Indian tribe — and their unborn child.
Neighbors said dozens of shots sounded just before 10 p.m. in a parking lot of the Wind Run Apartments in the 12100 block of the Interstate 10 Service Road. When the shooting was over, Lionel “Bumma” Delpit III, 25; Breon Stewart, 23; and the couple’s baby, whom they had planned to name Lionel Delpit IV, were dead in the front seat of their vehicle. Police were left searching for suspects.
One neighbor, who declined to give her name out of fear for her safety, said the couple had just pulled up to the apartment building in a blue 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser. She heard no sounds before the gunshots began, she said.
Another neighbor, who also declined to give her name, said she could see the anguish on first responders’ faces as they realized that Stewart, who had celebrated a baby shower this month and was due to give birth by Christmas, could not be saved.
The deaths of Delpit and Stewart were the 151st and 152nd homicides of the year in New Orleans, a grim milestone that means the city has now exceeded last year’s total of 150 killings.
The Wind Run killings also were the seventh slaying to claim more than one victim in New Orleans East alone this year.
Cmdr. Doug Eckert said police are waiting on the results of the autopsies to determine whether the unborn child’s death will be counted as a homicide.
Eckert, head of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division, said at a news conference that detectives were following up on several tips. He urged members of the public to call police with any information they might have.
“We feel confident that this wasn’t a random act,” Eckert said. “It’s a hideous crime. There’s no good time for a homicide, there’s no good time for a murder, but this, right before the holidays, just makes it that much worse.”
Stewart had shared much of her pregnancy with her twin sister Britnee, who recently gave birth herself. A photograph on Britnee’s Facebook page shows both siblings cradling their very pregnant bellies, wearing matching clothes.
Stewart was the 2011 valedictorian at George Washington Carver High School. Her sister was the salutatorian.
Delpit was the son of Lionel Delpit Jr., the longtime chief of the Black Feather Mardi Gras Indian tribe, who died in 2011. Other Indians groomed the younger Delpit to assume the chieftainship of the 7th Ward tribe.
Friends and acquaintances shared a steady stream of shock online after word spread of the killings.
“This world is sick but New Orleans is sicker,” one wrote on Facebook. “I hate it.”
Tulane University football player Leonard Davis, who knew the couple, also spoke out on social media. “No, I can’t believe this, man,” Davis said. “Not you Bummer, this can’t be life.”
Tyrone Yancy, who helped Delpit’s father form the Black Feather tribe in 1992, said he said seen the younger Delpit on Sunday at Indian practice, one of the weekly musical rehearsals that Indians hold as Mardi Gras approaches. “He wanted to put all of his energy into his girlfriend and their baby,” Yancy said.
Second Chief Corey Rayford also spent Sunday night with the young chief. He’d seen potential in Delpit, his cousin, and a motivation to achieve, he said.
“He was paying attention,” Rayford said. “He wanted it. He was creating his own style. That’s what he was focused on, just making his daddy proud.”
On Mardi Gras Day, Rayford will feel an emptiness on the street behind him, in the spot where the chief walks. “It will be hard for me to look back and see him not there,” he said.
Rayford said his cousin and girlfriend had their priorities straight. “They weren’t preparing for that baby. They were prepared,” he said.
Delpit was working two jobs to provide for his unborn son, Yancy said, and they had been talking with doctors about inducing labor next week if the baby didn’t arrive by then.
On Sunday, Rayford asked him, “You getting ready for Mardi Gras?”
As the tambourines shook behind them, Delpit told Rayford that, for the moment, the Indian tradition was taking a backseat.
“I’m getting ready for this baby,” Delpit said.
Indians from across the city massed Thursday night at Hunters Field, a traditional 7th Ward gathering spot, to honor the dead. Mourners danced, wept and shook tambourines raised high in the air as the crowd grew larger by the minute.
Wild Magnolias Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr., who helped organize the event, said he had last seen Delpit in line at the Carnival supply shop Jefferson Variety on Tuesday. They spent so long talking that the clerk passed them over and took the customers waiting behind them.
Even though he is an Uptown Indian and “Bumma” was from Downtown, he said, they always felt a special bond as second-generation chiefs carrying on the legacy of their fathers.
“It’s younger people like us that are carrying the tradition on, so we always stuck together,” Dollis said.
Gaynell Sorina, the Big Queen of the Black Feather Indians, recalled that when Delpit’s father was on his deathbed, he gave her an instruction: Never leave someone without telling them that you love them, because it may be the last time you see them.
Sorina broke down in tears as she said that when she had seen Delpit earlier this week, they had parted in just that way.