NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Anthony Herbert’s friends and family surrounded him as he sobbed for his mother at a vigil in her honor Saturday afternoon (March 23), three days after she was killed when a car crash ignited a deadly fire.
Schwann Herbert, 54, was one of three killed in the fatal crash and fire at Unity-1, a beloved hair salon in the Broadmoor neighborhood Wednesday night. A longtime customer of the salon, Schwann was on the second floor getting her hair done when the flames erupted.
“She was just a beautiful person,” Anthony Herber said. “She don’t have hatred toward anyone.”
Anthony said his mother was his best friend, a woman who would offer tough love, but was always there when you needed her.
“She told me to my face, ‘Get yourself together because I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here,'' Anthony said through tears. “I wish I could hear those words right now."
Schwann’s family asked for prayers at the vigil on the corner of Washington Avenue and South White Street.
“Our family is suffering right now. We need to be prayed for. Pray for the victims’ families who died in this crash," one family member said.
Organizers said that’s a big part of what the gathering was about -- a time to remember those who perished, pray and support one another.
Among the crowd were some of the first responders who tried their best to save the victims’ lives and successfully rescued the other people who were inside the salon when it caught fire -- two of which were children.
“We are a part of this community,” one firefighter told the grieving mourners. “Everyone of these gentlemen you see behind me worked in this area their entire career. We serve this community because we love this community, and we’re here because of that love.”
The fire started after police tried to stop two juveniles driving a suspected stolen car. New Orleans Police Chief Sean Ferguson said instead of pulling over, the car tried to flee, speeding away and ultimately hitting a tree before crashing into Unity-1. The blaze ignited soon after, gutting the insides of the neighborhood institution.
Both the boys inside the car were killing in the crash. June Wilson’s grandson was one of those boys.
“Bond with your children, especially the males because the children out here are angry,” Wilson said, directing her message to all parents. “Grandparents can step in, but they still need their parents, no matter what.”
And while the salon was always a place open to the community, the needy and the homeless, Beverly Smith, the owner of Unity-1, reminded the crowd of the meaning of her businesses name.
“I would like for each of and every one of y’all to keep lifting us up, because together we stand,” Smith said.
Smith said she plans to rebuild the salon.
One family member also spoke out Saturday about the need to be proactive when it comes to NOPD’s policy on vehicle pursuits, which can pose a public safety hazard.
The officers who first spotted the possibly stolen vehicle and attempted to initiate a stop have been moved to desk duty until an internal investigation into the crash is complete. A total of six officers have been reassigned, NOPD said, after questions were raised as to whether or not they violated any department policies.
The attorney for the officers said they gave up on the chase early on, after trying to stop the car near South Derbigny and Toledano streets, however some witnesses said they saw a pursuit.