Family searches for answers 5 years after Hano officer’s murder

Updated: Feb. 13, 2020 at 9:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - For one Kenner mother, the pain of losing her son, shot in the line of duty, is just as real today, as the day it happened five years ago. Through her pain, she's formed an unbreakable bond with someone very close to the case, a bond she says has helped her to survive.

Inside a small Kenner apartment sits a shrine, untouched for nearly five years, in memory of the son Chung Bennett thinks about every second, of every day. She explains, “When you lose a child, you never forget, it never goes away.”

With his badge and photo on display, Bennett says she can feel her son James’ presence.

“My younger son said mom, ‘time to take all the things, put away’, I said no, your brother’s spirit is all around,” Chung Bennett told us.

It’s been nearly five years since James Bennett Jr. was gunned down while sitting in his patrol car. In the early morning hours of May 24, 2015, the Housing Authority of New Orleans officer patrolled the area, a then locked, cordoned off construction site when someone opened fire.

HANO Chief Bobby Anderson says, “The person must’ve approached him from behind because where he was sitting at in his patrol car, he was either looking up or looking down and the person came from his blind side.”

The 45-year-old’s foot was on the brake at the time. His unit rolled two blocks until it came to a stop. Chief Anderson thinks Bennett was targeted simply for being a police officer.

Anderson says of the gunman, “He was either committing a criminal act like stealing copper or doing something and saw the opportunity to take out our police officer.”

He continues, “Senseless, there was no reason for it.”

Anderson describes the days after the murder as gut wrenching. A relatively new member of the force himself, it fell to Chief Anderson to help the Bennett family plan a funeral and work through legal red tape that befalls families during times of such tragedy.

“I think God put you there for a reason and I’m thankful that I’m able to continue to help the Bennett family,” Anderson said.

The days were as dark as night for Chung Bennett, a single mother who worked two jobs, seven days a week to care for her three kids. With one son who lives out of town and a daughter with special needs, it was James who cared for his mother in her later years.

Chung Bennett says of her son, “He take me to casino, he take me downtown, we go out to eat, all the time. A lot of things, I miss him.”

Upon his death, a new figure stepped in to Chung Bennett’s life; Chief Bobby Anderson.

“Whenever I ask, he’s there. Whenever a difficult time, he’s there. I just totally depend on Chief Anderson, yeah, and God,” Chung Bennett said.

Since James’ death, the two share a strong desire to solve his murder. Anderson explains, “The fact that we don’t have closure, the fact that his mom and brother and sister don’t have closure, it haunts us all the time, it really does."

Anderson says the NOPD is still working to solve this cold case. He explains, "They have a general idea or I should say a suspicion but without eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence or something that would help them build a case, they're struggling."

A year after the killing, 18-year-old Charles Garner was found to have Bennett’s gun on him. He was arrested and sentenced to five years for possessing the gun but never charged with the officer’s murder.

Anderson explains, “There is connection so whether he is the shooter or whether or not he got the gun from the shooter, that’s our closest connection to the actual murder.”

Coming up on the five year anniversary, Chief Anderson hopes renewed media attention will spark someone’s memory because for him and Bennett’s colleagues, the pain is as fresh today as it was back in 2015.

James Bennett Jr. is the only officer in HANO’s history, to be killed in the line of duty.

“We can never forget this happened and until someone is brought to justice we will never let it die,” Anderson said.

Chung Bennett believes even if her son’s killer isn’t caught and punished now, he will eventually have to answer for his crime.

“If he don’t pay here, punishment, when he go, God makes sure he pay over there,” Chung Bennett said.

In the meantime, James Bennett’s boss says he’ll continue to look after Chung, that includes weekly phone calls and taking her out to dinner, trying to fill the void that no mother should ever have to feel.

They’ve forged an unbreakable bond, rooted in tragedy, strengthened by faith and an unwavering commitment to take care of one another despite such terrible heartache.

Crimestoppers and the ATF are offering an up to $35,000 reward for information, leading to the arrest and indictment of James Bennett Jr.'s killer.

In addition to his mom and siblings, Bennett leaves behind a son.

The slain officer would’ve turned 50 in just a few months.

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