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New Orleans shooting suspect identified

14 May 2013, 07:38

New Orleans - Police identified a 19-year-old man as a suspect in the shooting of nearly 20 people during a Mother's Day parade in New Orleans, saying several people had identified him as the gunman.

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said they were looking for Akein Scott. He said it was too early to say whether he was the only shooter.

"The important thing for Akein Scott now is to turn himself in," Serpas said, standing outside of police headquarters. A photo of Scott hung from a podium in front of the police chief.

The mass shooting showed again how far the city has to go to shake a persistent culture of violence that belies the city's festive image. Earlier, police announced a $10 000 reward and released blurry surveillance camera images.

Investigators said they got several tips from the community.

"The people chose to be on the side of the young innocent children shot instead of on the side of a coward who shot into the crowd," he said.

Unclear image

Angry residents said gun violence - which has flared at two other city celebrations this year - goes hand-in-hand with the city's other deeply rooted problems such as poverty and urban blight.

The investigators tasked with solving Sunday's shooting work within an agency that's had its own troubles rebounding from years of corruption while trying to halt violent crime.

"The old people are scared to walk the streets. The children can't even play outside," Ronald Lewis, aged 61, said on Monday as he sat on the front stoop of his house, about a half a block from the shooting site. His window sill has a hole from a bullet that hit it last year. Across the street sits a house marked by bullets he said were fired two weeks ago.

"The youngsters are doing all this," said Jones, who was away from home when the latest shooting broke out.

Video released early on Monday shows a crowd gathered for a boisterous second-line parade suddenly scattering in all directions, with some falling to the ground.

They appear to be running from a man in a white T-shirt and dark pants who turns and runs out of the picture. The image isn't clear, but police said they hoped someone would recognise him and notify investigators.

Previous arrest

Police were working to determine whether there was more than one gunman, though they initially said three people were spotted fleeing from the scene.

Serpas said Scott has previously been arrested for resisting arrest, possession of a firearm and narcotics charges. It was not immediately clear whether he had been convicted on any of those.

Witness Jarrat Pytell said he was walking with friends near the parade route when the crowd suddenly began to break up.

"I saw the guy on the corner, his arm extended, firing into the crowd," said Pytell, a medical student.

"He was obviously pointing in a specific direction; he wasn't swinging the gun wildly," Pytell said.

Pytell said he tended to one woman with a severe arm fracture - he wasn't sure if it was from a bullet or a fall - and to others including an apparent shooting victim who was bleeding badly.

Persistent violence

Three gunshot victims remained in critical condition on Monday, though their wounds didn't appear to be life-threatening. Most of the wounded had been released from the hospital.

It's not the first time gunfire has shattered a festive mood in the city this year. Five people were wounded in a drive-by shooting in January after a Martin Luther King Jr Day parade, and four were wounded in a shooting after an argument in the French Quarter in the days leading up to Mardi Gras.

Two teens were arrested in connection with the Martin Luther King Day shootings; three men were arrested and charged in the Mardi Gras shootings.

The shootings are bloody reminders of the persistence of violence in the city, despite some recent progress.

Last week, law enforcement officials touted the indictment of 15 people in gang-related crimes, including the death of a 5-year-old girl killed by stray gunfire at a birthday party a year ago.

The city's 193 homicides in 2012 are seven fewer than the previous year, while the first three months of 2013 represented an even slower pace of killing.

Leading efforts to lower the homicide rate is a police force that's faced its own internal problems and staffing issues. At about 1 200 members, the department is 300 short of its peak level.

The site of the Sunday shooting - about 2.4km from the heart of the French Quarter - showcases other problems facing the city. Stubborn poverty and blight are evident in the area of middle-class and low-income homes.

Like other areas hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the area has been slower to repopulate than wealthier areas. And Landrieu's stepped up efforts to demolish or renovate blighted properties - a pre-Katrina problem made worse by the storm - remain too slow for some.

- AP

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