Community Seeks Healing in the Wake of New Orleans Mother’s Day Mass Shooting

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by Evan Seymour

NEW ORLEANS --This year, Mother’s Day in New Orleans served as a brutal reminder of the violence that plagues this city, and many neighborhoods across America. 19 people were injured Sunday afternoon when shooting erupted during a local Mother’s Day parade in a community known as the 7th Ward. Among the victims were 10 men, seven women, and a girl and a boy, both 10 years old.

In order to start the healing process and bring the community together, the office of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called a community rally. It was held at the intersection of Frenchmen and North Villere – the location where the shooting occurred.

A Mother Remembers Her Son
Yvette Holden is among the crowd gathered for the rally. She is no stranger to gun violence. Holden’s 23 year-old son, Elijah Grant, was murdered less than two years ago.

She came out to support the community and in order to encourage people to speak out against the violence.

As she stands listening to the mayor, city council members, local activists, and others speak, Holden is taken back to the moment she learned her son had been shot.

“His sister called me and I was sitting at home. She said, ‘Ma, Ellijah got shot.’”

Holden had just gotten off the phone with her son minutes before he was shot with the bullet that would end his life. Grant was around the corner watching a Saints game at a friend’s house when the shooting occurred.

According to Holden, a car drove by her son’s friend’s house and opened fire. Grant, a father of three, was shot in the stomach while trying to protect several children who were at the gathering. He died hours later at the hospital as a result of his injuries. He was not the intended target of the shooters, who still have not been caught.

Mrs. Holden recalls some of her grandson’s words on Mother’s Day -- “‘We should call up Daddy’ he said, and it just broke my heart.” Her pain is still palpable; her eyes looking into the distance as she speaks.

“It’s a hurting feeling, and I can never get over it, but by faith and prayer, by having a forgiving heart. That’s the only way I can heal,” says Holden.

“He was a good kid,” Holden says of Elijah, who had never been in trouble with the police, and was a manager at a local Wendy’s restaurant.

Mrs. Holden and her husband live in the 8th Ward, about a mile and a half away from this latest act of violence.

When she heard about Monday’s community rally on the news, she felt compelled to come out.

The Community Comes Together
Approximately 100 members of the community showed up in order to show their support for the victims of the Mother’s Day shooting and to call for a stop to the violence.

“Ain’t nobody out here at fault, but everybody is responsible. It’s our responsibility to do what is necessary,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu to the crowd.

“There are lots of examples of too many young people that have been taken from us,” said Landrieu. He then proceeded to speak the names of several victims of gun violence, including those of 5 year-old Briana Allen, who was gunned down last year, and James Darby, who was fatally shot on Mother’s Day in 1994.

“Apparently, there is no day that is sacred. Not Mother’s Day. Not on Martin Luther King Day when the president of the United States was sworn in for the second time.” Ironically enough, the shooting on Martin Luther King Day occurred at a parade being held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in order to celebrate the holiday that honors a man who preached non-violence, peace, and love.

“Let’s put our heads together. Let’s put our issues aside…This is a big issue …this is as deep as the Mississippi is deep and it’s as murky as the Mississippi is murky,” community member Frank Johnson told the crowd. “This is a gumbo, so let’s pick one of the ingredients of the gumbo and use it.”

“We have to be responsible for telling what we see…We have to see and say,” New Orleans City Council Vice President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarckson encouraged the crowd.

Holly Barnett was also among the group gathered to rally against violence. She is a member of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the group that hosted the parade.

“The scene was very horrific. I mean, just seeing kids crying for their mothers and mothers screaming for their babies. It’s just something that you just don’t want to see.”

Barnett was actually recording video of the 10-year-old female victim less than 5 minutes before the first shots rang out. She is a friend of the girl’s mother.

“Right when we made the corner and she got right here, they swarmed the block, and that’s when all hell broke loose.”

According to the New Orleans Times Picayune, approximately 300 people in attendance at the traditional New Orleans-style parade known as a second line. There were approximately 200 people crowded into the vicinity where the shooting broke out. Of the 29 victims, one remains in critical condition, and two are still in serious condition. Both of the 10-year-old victims sustained minor injuries including bullet grazes and are no longer in the hospital.

“Everybody was running for their lives,” Barnett says as she describes the mayhem.

“I actually saw [the little girl] fall and then two people, a white couple who were in front of us, fell right in front of us by this bush right here. My aunt was behind the bush with her granddaughter and it was like, what do you do? Who do you save?”

Barnett, who is a 31 year-old mother of three, lives just a block from where the shooting occurred, but she says she never walks down this street because it’s too dangerous.

“I don’t come this way, not even to catch the bus, because I know about the violence. It’s sad when we can’t even walk in broad daylight just to go to work to make a living for your kids because you’re afraid. When your kids stand by the bus stop, you don’t know who’s going to shoot who. It’s sad.”

“Your mother gave birth to you. That’s why you’re here on Mother’s Day. For you to just go and shoot up a crowd with kids and mothers and everything, I just don’t respect to that,” said Jacolb Tolver, a community member in the crowd of supporters. Tolver, the president of another social aid and pleasure club, says he always come to community events like this when he has the chance. Unfortunately, there are so many of them because violence is such a prevalent problem in the city of New Orleans.

Continuing the Fight Against Violence
Yvette Holden, the woman who lost her son to gun violence in November of 2011 chokes back tears, obviously emotional. The fact that the shooting occurred on Mother’s Day intensified the pain of what was already an incredibly difficult day for her.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of bed,” said Holden. “You just have to keep fighting.”

She plans to start a non-profit in order to stop the violence in the community and name it in honor of her son. She and neighbors held an event last year on the November 13th anniversary of Elijah’s murder. She says the event may become an annual one once she gets her organization up and running.

“I’m not going to let his death be in vain. He stood up for what was right. He saved the lives of three kids who are going to have a future,” says Holden. “He’s with God now. He’s getting his reward.”

note: At the time this article was published, police had identified the suspect, 19 year-old Akein Scott. According to a statement released by the office of Mayor Landrieu, a warrant has been issued for Scott’s arrest and police SWAT members have already been to two locations in search of the suspect. Though there are reports there may have been more than one shooter, Scott is the only person for whom a search warrant has been issued so far.

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