NEW ORLEANS – An Irish police officer on vacation in New Orleans was shot by an armed robber, one of the latest victims in a string of shootings that have put the city on edge as it gets ready to kick off Carnival festivities.
Authorities say Brian Hanrahan was shot early Tuesday in a residential area about 15 blocks from the French Quarter. Hanrahan told officers he was robbed after withdrawing money from an ATM, accompanied by a man who told him where he could get a drink at that hour. Police say the shooting happened at 5:40 a.m.
Hanrahan was listed in serious but stable condition Wednesday. Officers said they haven't found a suspect or Hanrahan's wallet.
The officer's shooting came a day after a 17-year-old high school student was killed on his way to school. Detectives believe the teenager was shot over an argument about a video game controller. In addition, a 29-year-old man was killed Monday and a 25-year-old woman was killed Tuesday in other parts of the city.
The shootings come as police struggle with a shrunken force and an uptick in violent crime.
"The city is not safe," said Tamara Jackson, the executive director of Silence Is Violence, a community group that works with the families of shooting victims.
She said many actions need to be taken — from stanching the flow of weapons onto the streets to beefing up the size of the police department. "We have too many young people who can get access to semiautomatic rifles, AK-47s."
The shooting of Hanrahan highlighted the dangers tourists face, too. About 1 million visitors are expected to come to New Orleans during the Carnival period, which ends on Feb. 17 with the celebration of Fat Tuesday, known in New Orleans as Mardi Gras.
"It's an embarrassing situation" for the city, said James F. McKay III, a chief state appellate judge in New Orleans and an Irish honorary consul. "I'm mortified and angry at the same time."
McKay said he visited Hanrahan on Wednesday and found him to be "alert and able to communicate." He said medical staff were monitoring his condition closely because a bullet had grazed a kidney.
The judge said Hanrahan worked as a police officer — known as garda in Ireland — in the Limerick area and was a father. He said Hanrahan had arrived in New Orleans with his father, who lives in Missouri. His wife and mother were expected to arrive in New Orleans on Thursday, he said.
An Irish restaurant planned to hold a fundraiser for Hanrahan on Saturday and McKay said other Irish groups were giving him support.
"He's away from Ireland and we're the nearest thing he has to it," said Matt Murphy, the owner and chef of The Irish House. Besides hosting the fundraiser, Murphy planned to send the wounded garda shepherd's pie and an Irish breakfast, including sunny-side up eggs, bacon, Irish sausage, black and white puddings, baked beans, roasted mushrooms, potato hash and toast.
McKay said violent crime is an all-too-familiar problem in New Orleans. "I'm not saying New Orleans is the only place where it happens, but it's part of our culture that we need to deal with."
Since the start of this year, police reports show that 11 people have been killed in homicides. Last year, the city saw a reduction in homicides but a rise in violent crime. The police department, working with federal and state agencies, has been targeting neighborhood gangs and attributed the drop in homicides to that effort.
Still, the department is struggling with a shortage of officers. A rash of robberies, several of them violent, in the French Quarter since November prompted the police force to ramp up patrols in the historic tourist areas.
With Carnival parades and festivities kicking into high gear, the city is paying overtime to get more police onto the streets. About 150 state troopers will be on duty as well.