NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Carnival Season came early in 2018 and the beginning of February was packed with parades, music and fun -- all parts of why Alabama native Russelll Teal loved New Orleans.
The 44-year-old moved here in 2017 and worked in the restaurant industry. His mother, Mary Jean Schramm, said her son was drawn to the culture of the city.
“He was really into music and art. He just loved it. It was a fun place for him,” Schramm said.
His sister, Tressa Teal Roten agreed.
“He would occasionally send me video of people playing music on the streets or singing on the streets. He would just sit and listen,” Teal Roten said.
His mother and sister said his outgoing, kind, free spirit personality were a natural fit in the Big Easy. He played the trumpet for years, loved sports and was a certified swim instructor.
“He just made people feel good about themselves and was probably one of the most non-judgmental people I have ever known,” Teal Roten said.
“He was a funny guy to be around He had such a warm heart a great big smile,” his mother added.
Both said he would never harm anyone, but New Orleans police said that didn’t stop someone from violently taking Russelll’s life.
It happened around 3 a.m. on Feb. 5, 2018 in the 1400 block Governor Nicholls Street, just around the Empress Hotel on Ursulines Avenue where Teal lived with a roommate, who was working at the time of the fatal attack.
Ryan Aucoin is the NOPD cold case detective handling the case. He says a hit to the head knocked Teal to the ground and ultimately took his life.
The focus is now on two men seen on surveillance video with Teal entering the hotel and later standing in the lobby. It was recorded at 2:25 a.m., about 30 minutes before his death . Police said neither one of the men gave their names at the front desk. According to investigators, the man seen wearing a black and white striped jacket is the suspect in this case and may use the nickname “Midnight.”
Aucoin said that suspect refused to give his name to the hotel worker in the lobby of the Empress Hotel.
“The individual did make mention that he was wanted for something," Aucoin said. "[And] he made that comment to someone that he didn’t want to provide his name to the hotel.
Once at the hotel, police said the second man seen in the video -- wearing glasses and carrying a red backpack -- didn’t stay long before he was seen leaving the hotel. NOPD said they consider him a “person of interest,” who they want to speak with because investigators think he can identify the suspect.
New Orleans Police don’t know how well Teal knew the suspect, but they did leave the hotel together. Investigators said based on their evidence, they know Teal and the suspect walked from the hotel, then traveled down Ursulines Avenue, then over to Treme Street, and up the 1300 block of Governor Nicholls Street. According to NOPD, along the way, Teal ran into his roommate, who was heading back home from work.
Police said Teal told his roommate he would be right back and continued walking with the suspect. According to Aucoin, the two walked to the 1500 block of Governor Nicholls Street and then they stopped for several minutes.
“And they’re talking with each other, milling around on the corner,” Aucion said.
At some point, Aucion said the two started going the opposite direction from the 1500 block of Governor Nicholls Street, then crossed over to the other side of the road.
After they crossed, the men walked back to the 1400 block of the street and then stopped, Aucion said.
By that time it was close to 3 a.m., and surveillance video shows the two men talking before Russell is struck in the head and falls to the ground.
“And ultimately, this is where police discover his body,” Aucion said.
The video then shows the suspect going through Russell’s pockets before walking away, leaving him on the sidewalk.
According to NOPD, Russelll’s body remained on the ground for over seven hours. They say some people stopped and appear to be looking for identification on his body and another person placed a jacket on him. But for the most part, people just kept walking.
“We interviewed an individual who said they thought he was just a drunk passed out on the side of the street, as it was just Mardi Gras,” Aucion said.
Several hours after his lifeless body had been on the ground, someone called the NOPD. By then it was shortly after 11 a.m. Police said Russell’s cell phone and identification was missing from the scene.
Teal’s family said his roommate didn’t let them know that Teal hadn’t returned home that night until two days later, but blame the delay on the two of them working opposite schedules. Making matters worst, because there was no identification on his body, Teal’s family didn’t learn what happened to him until police called them five days after his death.
“We loved each other dearly. To receive a call like that its overwhelming,” his mother said.
A year after Teal’s death, Aucoin said all they’re missing is the name of the suspect.
They’re hoping the man captured on the surveillance video, wearing the glasses and carrying the red backpack can provide that information. Aucion said based on what he was wearing, investigators think he may work in the French Quarter.
As for the suspect, investigators believe he is a local man.
“I just think the right people haven’t seen the picture," Aucion said. “I do think somebody will recognize this individual.”
His family is hoping for that too, as they struggle daily to deal with their devastating loss.
“He has robbed our family of a lot of joy, and we will not stop until he is brought to justice,” Teal’s heartbroken sister said, fighting back tears.
Their hope is that the public will help them find that justice for a loved one they say brought a lot of joy to their lives.
There is currently a $5,000 reward for anyone who can provide authorities with the suspect’s name. If you have any information contact the NOPD at 504-658-5315.