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New Orleans shooting wounds 4 as French Quarter crowd parties ahead of Mardi Gras

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NEW ORLEANS - Gunshots erupted in a crowd of bead-wearing, drink-carrying late-night revelers on Bourbon Street during the countdown to Mardi Gras, wounding four people and sending bystanders running and screaming. Hours later on Sunday, though, the same stretch was packed with partiers who said they weren't letting the violence dampen their fun.

In a video taken by a witness Saturday night and released the next day, the shootings are preceded by footage of people standing shoulder to shoulder in New Orleans' famed tourist district, with some holding green plastic cups and wearing gaudy hats or masks. A section of the frame highlighted by police shows people jostling and speaking with angry expressions.

Police said in an email that the video depicts an argument involving one of the shooting victims and the suspects. Two men are seen leaving the argument and returning with a third, then approaching the victim as at least one of the suspects begins shooting, according to police. Four shots are heard in rapid succession, followed by screams as some in the crowd stagger into one another and a nearby wall. A man whom police identified as one of the suspects is shown walking through the crowd with his arm extended as the gunshots are heard, though it's difficult to make out a weapon.

Police said Sunday that they were seeking the three men and that they've identified one suspect, but won't release the name.

The shootings wounded two men and two women, three of whom were treated and released Sunday. One man hit in the abdomen, thigh and pelvis was in stable condition Sunday after surgery the previous night, New Orleans Police spokesman Hilal Williams said.

Another man was shot in the buttocks, one woman was shot on the chin and right foot, and the second woman was shot on the toe, police said. No ages or names were released.

The shooting came on the last weekend of partying before Mardi Gras, the Fat Tuesday celebration that is the signature tourist event of the year in New Orleans. And for thousands, the partying continued despite the shooting. Parades rolled under cloudy skies Sunday before crowds of onlookers, though the shootings were on the minds of some revelers.

"It was very disappointing," said New Orleans resident Carol Redmann-Bailey as she watched Thoth roll by. "I was disappointed and sad, but it seems like Bourbon Street stayed open. ... Let the good times roll."

New Orleans has been plagued for years by violent crime, including gun violence that has soared since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.

In 2011, sixteen people were shot and at least two killed in Halloween shootings in New Orleans. One of the victims was slain near the Chris Owens nightclub, about a block away from Saturday's incident.

Patrick Clay, a 21-year-old Louisiana State University student, told The Times-Picayune that he was standing on the corner of Bourbon Street on Saturday night when suddenly he saw a crowd running and people screaming that there had been a shooting.

"Everyone immediately started running and the cops immediately started running toward where people were running from," Clay said. "I was with a group of about seven people and at that point, we all just kind of grasped hands and made our way through the crowd as soon as possible."

Julia Rosenthal, a 19-year-old from Westchester, New York, had mixed feelings about hanging out in the French Quarter after the shooting. "It's not an OK thing that happened, and it's definitely scary. But I'm not going to let it affect my night," she said.

Peter Manabani, an employee at the Rat's Hole bar, said police had shut down a whole Bourbon Street block for an hour to investigate but allowed people to return to the area later.

Hours later on Sunday, there was little evidence that a shooting had occurred. Revelers were in full party mode, packing the block amid a heavy police presence.

Laura Gonzalez, 21, of Baytown, Texas, said it was her first Mardi Gras and she spent some time in the Fat Catz bar nearby as police investigated. She said the bar locked its doors quickly after the shots rang out and wouldn't let anyone in or out while police went to the scene.

Asked if it was frightening, she responded: "Not really. We were just locked in a bar and we weren't going to let this one incident wreck our party."

Parades rolled all day Saturday but none on Bourbon Street because the streets are too narrow. One of the biggest Mardi Gras parades, the Krewe of Endymion, rolled down a major thoroughfare and just skirted Bourbon Street a few hours before the shooting. Typically, once the parades end, partygoers head to the French Quarter.

___

Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.

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