I remember the day the music stopped, or rather the drums from the marching bands in the parade, like it was yesterday. It happened fast, but this is what I remember. Shots fired, lots of shots fired. People screaming and dropping to the ground. The look on my dad’s face as he threw my then 8-year-old son hard against the back wall where we were standing, scrambling for my girls, the sheer panic of fear and confusion, trying to focus my brain so I could protect my kids. My dad says I screamed the entire time until we got to safety. I do not remember screaming at all.
The events leading up to this terrifying moment were normal.
It was Mardi Gras Day 2018 and we were excited to bring the kids to their first Zulu and city truck parades. We have three kids close in age and stayed in Metairie for ease on Mardi Gras day. This year we decided they were old enough to venture into the city. It was not their first city parade, but their first on Mardi Gras Day. My dad had some friends who had a stand above the sidewalk with food and a bathroom; we were all set. My brother and his girlfriend came, along with my parents, my husband and kids, and a few of my dad’s friends. I felt safe, or rather, I did not even give much thought to not feeling safe. We enjoyed Zulu, caught a few coconuts which I was excited to be able to display. Zulu rolled by without a problem and the truck parades were coming down the street. My kids were hanging over the side of the stands waving and screaming for throws as one does during Mardi Gras. I was standing towards the back, taking it all in. And then shots were fired, unmistakably gunshots, in rapid succession.
The next few minutes are a blur.
I recall about 5 shots, but I couldn’t be sure. I watched as an entire crowd of people went from joy to fear. Everyone hit the ground, scrambling to find cover. People were screaming, more shots fired. In those moments you have no idea where the shots are coming from. Are they coming from above you? Is the crowd the target? Is this crime/gang-related? How long will this last? Are the bullets coming towards me? Has anyone around me been hit? Have my kids been hit? Have I been hit? Where can we hide?
I saw my dad pick up my son and throw him hard towards me against the back wall. I remember his face, eyes wide with panic. I kept my son down and covered him with my body; the girls were thrown down beside him by my husband and he covered them with his body. We crawled as low as we could to the ground, with our kids behind us, down the stairs of the stands, along the cement and to a building behind us that was still under construction. We hid behind some steel beams and caught our breath. The kids were crying and scared, I was shaking. Later when we got in the car I realized my knees were bloody and scraped up from crawling along the ground. I didn’t notice at the time, but thankfully, besides emotional scars, that was the worst of the physical. We left everything behind, our throws, my purse, everything but ourselves, and we didn’t go back for them.
We found out later from the news that at least 5-8 shots were fired in our direction that day.
One person was shot in the head, another in the leg. In total 3 people were killed, and 5 others injured in 2 separate shootings on Mardi Gras Day, 2018. Headlines you would expect to hear on any day in New Orleans.
I grew up in New Orleans. I know you read and hear those words a lot, but do they really sink in. My kids go to school in the city, I work in the city, we are there all the time. I went to parades for my whole life. I understand the city can be dangerous, but that always seemed like someone else’s New Orleans, not mine. I loved dressing my kids in purple, green and gold and bringing them to parades. I took great pride in the fact that my city puts on this huge event where the streets overflow with laughter, music, and community. But it has changed me. I am forever changed by this event. I can no longer go into a crowded place without looking around for an escape route or a place to hide if the unthinkable ever happened, again.
It took a lot of the joy out of Mardi Gras for me, for them.
I know this can happen anywhere, but it happened to me at Mardi Gras. It happened there and that will stay with me. We did take our kids back to parade in the city; we don’t want them to live in fear, in this city that we love and has so much to offer. Violence can and does happen anywhere. But, a lot of joy and magic were gone. So much so, the kids asked us if they could skip Mardi Gras altogether the next year, and we did. We opted to travel to Universal Studios instead of staying home and parading.