Emanuel Pipkins

Emanuel Pipkins

A teenager shot and killed a 63-year-old woman and wounded her 54-year-old husband after they caught him breaking into their car late Wednesday in Mid-City, New Orleans officials said Thursday. 

Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said a 17-year-old suspect was taken into custody after he arrived at an area hospital with a gunshot wound suffered during an exchange of gunfire with one of the victims.

The 17-year-old was identified as Emanuel Pipkins; he was booked on one count of second-degree murder.

Can't see video below? Click here.

Police are apparently looking for others in connection with the case, which officials will likely hold up as emblematic of how urgent it is to get a handle on an ongoing spike in car break-ins by underage offenders.

According to a source, a car alarm of one of the victims sounded about 9:50 p.m. in the 2700 block of Cleveland Avenue. The man and woman, identified by sources as Danny and Zelda Townsend, went outside and saw a boy they didn’t know inside the car.

Ferguson said the 17-year-old had been arrested in a separate auto burglary incident in April and had a previous aggravated assault charge. 

Ferguson and Mayor LaToya Cantrell cited a recent spike in juvenile crime and implored parents to help address the situation. 

“It is time to take ownership of your kids," Ferguson said. "Be responsible for these kids. … we as a city government cannot do this alone.”

Cantrell mentioned multiple initiatives regarding juvenile crime, including curfew laws planned for the summer months. Officials are also seeking approval from the City Council on a court-ordered enrichment program that juvenile offenders can be ordered to participate in as an alternative to incarcerations at the Youth Study Center. 

“We’re going to take a more holistic approach to address juvenile crime,” Cantrell said. "Accountability has to happen, and collectively we need to determine the steps.”

In Wednesday's shooting, both victims tried to keep the boy in the car until help could arrive. But the boy fled the scene after pulling out a gun and shooting both victims, the source said. Police said the vehicle he used was stolen.

The woman was shot multiple times and the man was hit in an arm, police said. The victims were taken to University Medical Center, and the woman was pronounced dead there.

Danny Townsend owns a barber shop on Broad Street, around the corner from the shooting scene, people who knew the couple said. Zelda Townsend worked as a security guard. 

Cantrell and Ferguson both encouraged residents not to "put themselves in harm's way" in such incidents, but to call police. 

"They are brazen and they have no fear. Call 911; do not engage," Cantrell said. "Because we believe, based on what we’ve seen, it will not end in a manner that we want in this city. It will not end positively.”

Speaking on WWL-Radio, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said a group of juveniles was inside the vehicle when the shooting victims were alerted by the alarm. 

Cannizzaro repeated his long-held view that juvenile crime is the "biggest crime problem" facing the city.

A drop in key gun violence statistics in 2018 helped the city register its lowest number of murders since 1971. As of Thursday morning, homicides are nearly half what they were at the same point last year.

But year-to-date car burglaries (2,128) are nearly double what they were at this time in 2018 (1,098), according to police statistics. Rashes of car break-ins in neighborhoods across the city have become a common topic on local TV newscasts, with both police and residents blaming groups of juveniles.

Cannizzaro has blamed repeat underage offenders on political pressure put on Juvenile Court judges to keep the population of detainees at the Youth Study Center low.

On the other side, youth advocates have said violent underage offenders are not representative of most children in the juvenile justice system, and they have pushed for better recreational, mentoring and educational programs aimed at young people.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.