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Family of Zelda Townsend arrive to the barber and beauty salon Danny's Devine Design after Zelda Townsend was fatally shot and her husband Danny Townsend injured during an attempted car burglary by a 17-year-old Wednesday night, on S. Broad Ave. near Cleveland Ave. in New Orleans, Thursday, May 9, 2019.

As her husband stood in the way of a teenager who had broken into their car Wednesday night in Mid-City, Zelda Townsend walked up and handed her husband a handgun, according to New Orleans police.

The car burglar’s getaway vehicle was nearby, and from inside it a voice called out, “Just shoot him! Just shoot him!”

The teenage burglar apparently listened, firing his own gun multiple times, mortally wounding Zelda Townsend and hitting her husband in the arm, police allege.

An arrest warrant for the suspected shooter — filed late Thursday in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court — provides a detailed account of the circumstances that led authorities to jail Emanuel Pipkins, 17, on a count of second-degree murder.

Bail for Pipkins — who was shot during an exchange of gunfire with Townsend’s husband — was set at $750,000 Thursday evening.

Police didn’t identify the husband, but multiple people familiar with the family identified him as Danny Townsend, 54, a barber.

Pipkins’ 18-year-old girlfriend, Byrielle Hebert, was also arrested after she admitted being in the suspected getaway car, police said. She is now facing a count of manslaughter. 

According to the warrant, Danny Townsend told police that he and his wife heard the alarm on their car blaring about 10 p.m. Wednesday in the 2700 block of Cleveland Avenue. The couple went outside to check on their vehicle and saw a teenager in the back of the car.

As the burglar saw Danny Townsend approaching, he tried to get out of the vehicle, police said. But Townsend blocked the way, and he was then handed a pistol by his wife, a security guard.

Right about then, a gray Acura sedan drove up, and “a male voice” from inside that car screamed, “Just shoot him! Just shoot him!” The youth in the Townsends’ car then drew his own 9mm handgun and began shooting, police said.

Danny Townsend shot back to defend himself and his wife, until a bullet from the burglar hit him in the left arm and caused him to fall.

Zelda Townsend, 63, was shot in the head, police said.


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First responders took both Townsends to University Medical Center, where Zelda was pronounced dead. Meanwhile, the burglar fled. 

Investigators began focusing on Pipkins as a suspect when he arrived at University Medical Center with a bullet wound to the back. His girlfriend and his legal guardian — an aunt — accompanied him.

He told police he had been shot somewhere in New Orleans East, miles from Cleveland Avenue. However, police questioned Hebert and the aunt.

Hebert allegedly admitted to having been in a stolen Acura sedan that was seen on Cleveland at the time of the shooting. Police recovered the sedan at North Miro and St. Philip streets in Treme, down the street from where Pipkins’ aunt lives.

The aunt allegedly told police that Pipkins and Hebert had been in a gray Acura sedan less than two hours before Zelda Townsend’s slaying.

Police didn’t believe Pipkins' story, alleging that an unidentified witness said Pipkins was “a vehicle burglar” who had gone to the 2700 block of Cleveland hoping to break into cars. The witness described seeing the shootout between Pipkins and Danny Townsend. 

Townsend owns a barber shop in the 200 block of South Broad Street, around the corner from where he and his wife were shot.

In the end, police booked Pipkins on a count of murder. He faces the possibility of a life sentence if convicted.

Police said they raided his aunt’s home and found a 9mm pistol hidden in an air conditioner duct. Investigators seized it but stopped short of calling it the gun which was used to kill Zelda Townsend.

Police initially booked Hebert on a count of illegal possession of a stolen auto, but she was not accused of having a hand in the shooting. She was released on a $2,500 recognizance bond on Thursday.

She was arrested on the manslaughter count Friday. Although she did not fire a gun, police booked her with manslaughter under the theory that she was a party to a felony — simple burglary of a vehicle — that resulted in a killing. 


Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.