NEW ORLEANS — A gun battle erupted amid a gathering at a New Orleans park Sunday evening, scattering the crowd of revelers and wounding 16 people in a spasm of sudden violence.
New Orleans Police Department spokesperson Garry Flot said it’s unclear what ignited the shootout at Bunny Friend Park, where hundreds of people had gathered for a music video shoot and block party.
Flot said two groups began firing at each other across the crowd shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday. It’s possible that gang members were involved, according to Flot. The gunmen aren’t thought to be associated with a neighborhood parade happening nearby.
“At the end of the day it’s really hard to police against a bunch of guys who decide to pull out guns and settle their disputes with 300 people between them,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu told reporters from the scene.
“What we need more than anything else is for witnesses to come forward and tell us what they saw,” NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison added. “There were hundreds of people in this park looking at this incident and we know they saw what happened.”
Police were on their way to the park to disperse the crowd — which had gathered without a permit — when the shootout began. So far, none of the gunmen have been apprehended.
All 16 victims were in stable condition early Monday morning. Their injuries included bullet wounds and graze wounds.
Police spokesman Tyler Gamble told the New York Times “there were two groups that were firing shots back and forth at each other, and then ran off after each other on foot.”
Ambulances took 10 people to local hospitals, Flot said. Six others were taken in private vehicles.
James Jones, 32, was at the park when gunfire erupted.
“I ran so fast I didn’t even much see nothing,” he said.
Jones, who lives across the Mississippi River, drove to New Orleans with a friend to enjoy the festivities. “It was a good time before all that.”
Jones’ friend, who did not give his name, said the gunfire “sounded like New Year’s,” when celebratory gun shots ring out across the city. This time, the crackle of weapons was far from festive.
Joseph Jordan told the Associated Press he and his friend Raven heard the gunshots from inside a home across the street from the park. Later, Raven got a phone call that her 14-year-old niece had been hit. Jordan and Raven rushed to the hospital, where they found the girl with three gunshots to her leg.
“It’s still crowded back there” at the hospital, Jordan told the AP.
The nearby parade that preceded the shootout was one of New Orleans’ famous second line parades, festive brass band processions characterized by raucous music, exuberant dancing and occasional violence. In 2013, alleged gang members fired on a second line parade in the Seventh Ward, injuring 19 people including two 10-year-olds.
Big Ed Buckner, leader of the Original Big Seven, which organizes the parade, told NPR that the shooting marred people’s memories of the festivities.
“Everyone is breaking and running, we’re scared to death,” he said. “People are falling on top of people. We had babies out there. We had children — two 10-year-olds [were] hit.”
“People had come to have a beautiful day,” he continued. “Now when they think about Mother’s Day coming, the only thing they’ll be able to think about is May 12, 2013.”
Three years earlier, four people were injured and one woman killed after another Seventh Ward second line parade. Four years before that, three people were wounded in a shooting at one of the first second line parades after Hurricane Katrina.
Each spate of violence tends to spur discussion about the culture of the parades. But advocates of the tradition say that the festive gatherings, organized by neighborhood groups and social aid clubs, aren’t hurting the community — they’re enriching it.
“They are what’s good about this city, and add to our rich heritage and culture,” Landrieu told the Times-Picayune in 2013. “Just because some ill-advised kids used these as an opportunity to shoot each other, it has to be stated clearly that it’s not the clubs, or anybody that has anything to do with them.”
Just hours after the shooting Sunday, the park that once thronged with revelers was empty and eerily silent. On the street nearby, the windshields of several cars were spiderwebbed with cracks and pocked with bullet holes. Assorted clothing items littered the playground and sports fields, discarded in the chaos that followed the first sound of gunshots: six caps, a woman’s coverup, a few mismatched Timberland boots.
And, perched atop the swing set in the darkened playground, sits a tiny child’s boot. The shoe’s partner, like the little girl who wore it, is nowhere to be found.