His friends said Demontris Toliver, a 25-year-old apprentice tattoo artist from Baton Rouge, was only out for a good time Saturday night during this year's Bayou Classic festivities, which happened shortly after his birthday.

The friends hadn't necessarily planned on walking down Bourbon Street. And they didn't recognize the men who started shooting along the crowded street early Sunday morning.

Toliver, as far as anyone can tell, was a bystander, just like the 21-year-old nursing student who died of a gunshot wound during a shootout two years ago on the same street. Just like the 63-year-old grass cutter shot to death in Central City in September in what until Sunday had been the city's worst mass shooting of the year.

The seemingly random explosions of gunfire that take another life in New Orleans every few months claimed Toliver — described by one friend as a "sweet little angel" — shortly before 1:30 a.m. Sunday. 


Self portrait ✍🏾👣#demontartzdope

A photo posted by 💡DEMONT (@_demontt82) on Mar 12, 2016 at 4:32am PST

He was walking with his fiancee, Latavia Smith, and a friend on the crowded block of Bourbon between Iberville and Canal streets, his friends said. As shots sounded from the direction of Canal, Toliver took off in the other direction, according to Keyaira Augustus, 25, a good friend of his fiancee who witnessed the scene. 

Augustus, who had dropped to the ground immediately, said she saw her friends fleeing unwittingly in the direction of a man in a white shirt pointing a gun in the air. She said she tried to call after them but it was too late. 

The next thing she knew, Toliver lay bleeding from the neck on the ground.

"He started freaking out, saying that he was hurt and he couldn’t breathe," Augustus said. "He was panicking, calling out for his fiancee."

Police were there immediately, applying pressure to the gushing wound, Augustus said, but Toliver died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. 

As of Sunday afternoon, New Orleans police said that officers had arrested a dozen people for illegally carrying firearms in the French Quarter over the weekend, but none were considered to be suspects in Sunday morning's shooting.

Augustus said neither she nor Toliver — who lived with his fiancee in Baton Rouge's Tigerland neighborhood — recognized any of the shooters or the other victims left injured on the crowded street. 

Nor were they even planning on being on Bourbon Street at that point, according to Augustus. She said they had gotten a room at the Marriott Hotel and were headed to a party, but first they had to go by Bourbon to find Toliver's brother, who had separated from them earlier.

"We were literally just passing by," Augustus said. "We were just trying to get through the crowd. It was a mob."


Finished!!! On to the next ;)

A photo posted by 💡DEMONT (@_demontt82) on Oct 18, 2014 at 5:36pm PDT

A surveillance video from near Bourbon and Canal shows a hectic scene, with people seen running and apparently screaming and crying as others dropped to the ground. One man was seen being taken away in an ambulance. 


Can't see the video? Click here.

Augustus said she and Toliver's fiancee eventually made their way to the hospital where he had been taken. They learned only after arriving there that Toliver had died en route. 

"I don’t remember how I felt," said Augustus, who spent much of the night being interviewed by police.

"I just remember saying I have to stay in control because she was out of control," she said of Toliver's fiancee. "I was just like, 'I’ve got to keep it all together.' "

Aaron Michael Washington, a 29-year-old manager at a Baton Rouge tattoo shop called Effum Underground, where Toliver worked as an apprentice tattoo artist, said he had known Toliver for several years.


Strength in sisterhood #latepost #domesticviolence #love #power #togetherwearebetter❤

A photo posted by 💡DEMONT (@_demontt82) on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:42am PDT

Washington said the frequent violence surrounding the Bayou Classic, an annual football game between Southern University and Grambling State University, has turned him off of the event. 

"Every year people die," he said, with frustration in his voice. "And it’s too late at this point for warnings."

Toliver had grown up in New Orleans, according to his Facebook page and New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, who said the victim attended high school in the city.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Toliver had "a very promising life" ahead of him.

Washington described Toliver as a "fun free spirit" and an "amazing, amazing" artist who developed a "beautiful realism" in his work, which was influenced by African cultures. 

"He was like a sweet little angel. He never did anything to upset anyone," Washington said. "You know he was one of those artists who are so creative; he was in a magical place all the time in his head."

Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.