Oak tree marks drug, crime hot spot in N.O. East

Police hope surveillance video will help identify the gunman who shot five people near a familiar gathering place and trouble spot Monday night in New Orleans East.

The shooting happened at the corner of Dale Street and Chef Menteur Highway beneath a large oak tree, and no one familiar with the area is surprised by the crime.

"Everybody in the neighborhood talks about the tree, you know?" said Gilbert McKey.

Apparently, people gather at all hours of the day and night underneath the tree, often conducting drug transactions.

"This is an action spot," McKey said. "Everybody know that."

"People done got killed under this tree, but we still come underneath this tree," said Melvin Scott. "I come all the way from Georgia, and I still come back to this tree."

The area was quiet Tuesday, but scattered trash and debris is an indicator of how busy it can get. The area is known as "million dollar corner" - a place where people in the neighborhood say money is made.

"Million dollar block, baby," said Tia Sparrow. "This is our block. This is where we hang. Everybody knows this is the block, ya heard? I wouldn't be surprised if they be pulling up in a minute to get their money, ya know?"

Surveillance video captured a white, 15-passenger van pull up to the corner Monday just before 8 p.m. Police say a man armed with an assault rifle jumped out and began firing into a crowd of people.

"One of the guys that work with me got shot randomly," said McKey. "He was hit in the back. He said he heard the shooting, he started running and they shot him in the back."

In all, five men were hit ranging in age from 20 to 60. Sparrow said her cousin, a 27-year-old man, was one of the victims.

"He was shot seven times, more than seven times, and I think it's bad 'cause there could have been anybody out here," she said.

People who live nearby say the corner at Dale and Chef fuels trouble. They say they see police patrolling the area, but it doesn't seem to help.

"Too much stuff be going on right here, ya know what I'm saying? From the old drunks, to the druggies, ya know what I'm saying?" Sparrow said. "There's a lot going on right here. Don't get me wrong - it's the spot where people hang 'cause this is all they know."

Family members tell FOX 8 that one of the victims is in critical condition. Police say only one of the five people hit was the intended target.

If you know anything that could help police, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.

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