NEW ORLEANS – Authorities were searching for one or more suspects in the shooting deaths of five teenagers in the most violent crime reported in this slowly repopulating city since Hurricane Katrina hit last August.
The victims, ranging in age from 16 to 19, were gunned down early Saturday on a street in the Central City neighborhood just outside the central business district.
Investigators believe the shootings were drug-related or a retaliation attack, Police Capt. John Bryson said. A semiautomatic weapon was used and "multiple, multiple rounds" were fired, he said.
"I think the motivation we're looking at is pretty obvious," Bryson said. "Somebody wanted them dead."
Three of the victims were found in a sport utility vehicle rammed against a utility pole and two were found nearby on the street. It was not immediately known if any of them were armed.
The victims were identified as Arsenio Hunter, 16; Warren Simoen, 17; Iruan Taylor, 19; Reggie Dantzler, 19; and Marquis Hunter, 19, said John Gagliano, the chief investigator for Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard. The Hunters are believed to be brothers or cousins, authorities said.
Bryson said he could not remember the last time five people were killed in one incident — before or after Katrina.
The shootings left some people feeling unsafe in the neighborhood, where residents sat on porches and discussed the incident Saturday.
"Lord, this is like the sixth person killed around here in the last month," said Monique Jackson, a 27-year-old housekeeper. "It's getting bad now."
She added: "I don't want to ever hear about a murder ever again. It's just young people doing it to each other."
Crime, including murder, has been creeping back after Katrina emptied the city of its residents when it hit Aug. 29, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. Current population estimates vary, but the city is believed to have less than half its pre-storm population of about 455,000.
Fifty-two people have been murdered in the city since Jan. 1, half the number at this time last year, Bryson said.
There were only 17 killings in January through March. But the rate picked up after that: There were 13 in April alone, followed by 22 in May and June.
Bryson said the recent spike in murders, which he said was connected to drugs, was not just a "police problem" or a "New Orleans problem."
"It's a Louisiana problem, it's a United States problem," he said. "We're begging the citizens to join with us to coordinate with watch groups."