NEW ORLEANS – A Mardi Gras parade erupted into chaos on Fat Tuesday when a series of gunshots struck seven people, including a toddler. The child was not seriously injured and two suspects were in custody, police said.
The shootings happened near the Garden District about 1:40 p.m. after the last major parade of the celebration, Rex, had ended. A stream of truck floats that follow the parade were passing by when gunfire broke out.
"It sounded like a string of fireworks, so I knew it was more than one shooter," said Toni Labat, 29, a limousine company manager. She was with her two children, a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl.
"Everybody was petrified. They hit the ground, the floats stopped, everybody on the floats ducked," Labat said.
Labat said one man dragged himself on the ground screaming for help after being wounded and another man was gasping for air and bleeding from his mouth.
Police spokesman Bob Young said the victims — three men ages 50, 33 and 20, two young women ages 20 and 17, and a 15-year-old boy — were taken to area hospitals. Young said the 20-month-old baby was grazed by a bullet and not seriously hurt.
The two most seriously injured victims underwent surgery for stomach wounds, said Officer Janssen Valencia, though he didn't know the men's conditions. The others were listed in stable condition Tuesday night with injuries not considered life-threatening.
Dr. Jim Parry, 41, a surgeon who was with a gathering of doctors near the shooting site, ran over to tend to one man who he said had been shot in the abdomen. "He kept asking me, 'Was I shot? Was I shot?"'
Paramedics arrived and took over for the Air Force reservist.
"I'm off to Afghanistan this summer. Damn, this is more dangerous than Afghanistan," Parry said.
Police believe the victims were bystanders hit at random, though a motive for the shooting hasn't been determined, Valencia said.
Two men, 19-year-old Mark Brooks and 18-year-old Louis Lazone, both of New Orleans, were each booked with seven counts of attempted first-degree murder. Brooks also faces a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Young said. It was not immediately known if the men had attorneys.
Three weapons believed used in the shooting were recovered, Young said. It was not immediately clear whether the gunfire was random or if the shooters were aiming for the victims or each other.
The violence along the oak-lined Uptown streetcar line marred what had been a generally peaceful day of revelry in which hundreds of thousands of people partied in the streets on the final day of Carnival. Another shooting was reported on Friday night after an argument, but otherwise, the event was generally problem-free.
Beau Beals, 45, said he was outside a house party on St. Charles Avenue when the shooting erupted. He said he and other revelers tossed children over a metal fence to get them to safety, but others kept waiting for beads and other trinkets being tossed from the floats as if nothing had happened.
"They had an ambulance out here picking the guy up off the street and people didn't stop vying for throws," Beals said.