NEW ORLEANS — The shootings of seven people, including a toddler, marred Fat Tuesday partying as ear-piercing gunfire sent revelers ducking for cover and brought Mardi Gras' final stream of truck floats to a horrifying halt.
The 20-month-old child was grazed by a bullet and wasn't seriously injured. Two suspects were in custody, police said.
Gunshots erupted near the Garden District about 1:40 p.m. as a stream of truck floats passed by after the last major parade, Rex, had ended. Thousands of people partied in the streets on the last day of Carnival before the violence broke out along the oak-lined Uptown streetcar line.
"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.
Police believe the victims were bystanders hit at random, though a motive for the shooting hasn't been determined, Valencia said. Their names weren't released.
Dr. Jim Parry, 41, a surgeon at 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 soon arrived to take over for Parry.
"I'm off to Afghanistan this summer. Damn, this is more dangerous than Afghanistan," said Parry, an Air Force reservist.
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.
Two other shootings were reported in the midst of Mardi Gras celebrations. One happened on Friday night after an argument. And around 12:25 a.m. Wednesday — just after Mardi Gras officially ends — a 21-year-old man was shot in the back in the middle of a Bourbon Street crowd, police said. His name was not released, but police spokesman Garry Flot said he was in stable condition.
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 trinkets being tossed from the floats as if nothing happened.
"They had an ambulance out here picking the guy up off the street and people didn't stop vying for throws," Beals said.