Customers return to Mandina’s, as slain employee mourned by Sophie B. Wright High School

Published: May. 1, 2023 at 8:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Faculty and students at Sophie B. Wright High School are mourning the loss of a young graduate who was killed Friday night (April 28) in front of Mandina’s restaurant.

Administrators say Hilbert Walker III, 23, had been an accomplished student. He was fatally shot outside the restaurant where he worked as a waiter, in what New Orleans police have described as a targeted killing.

After closing for the weekend, Mandina’s reopened Monday to a packed house for lunch service.

“It was a harrowing experience,” said returning customer Terri Cain, who witnessed the shooting that killed Walker and wounded a tourist from Chicago who was dining inside. “We were inside. We heard the gunfire and we hit the ground.”

But Cain and others returned to one of New Orleans‘s beloved restaurants, three days after the tragedy.

“Oh yeah, it was a wonderful evening, and then everybody was screaming and we all got down. It was surreal,” witness Susan Gibeault said.

Patrons filled the restaurant Monday, determined to show their support in the wake of the shooting. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams visited for lunch and Mayor LaToya Cantrell stopped by for dinner.

“That’s what I’m here for, to make sure that we all know that we’re not gonna let them bring down a landmark,” said patron Scott Schlesinger.

Meanwhile, Walker is being remembered as a standout student at Sophie B. Wright who served as both a drum major and quarterback in his senior year of 2018.

“I knew Hilbert well as a student,” Wright principal Dr. Sharon Clark said. “He would brighten my day with tons of jokes. He was very academic, and had two parents who are here at the drop of a dime for anything.”

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Sophie B. Wright administrators said Gilbert’s father and brother also work at Mandina’s.

“Very committed and a hard worker,” remembered Wright band director Desmian Brown. “I met him a couple times in Mandina’s. He impressed me serving and doing his job.”

The NOPD has provided no update on the shooting investigation, nor given information on the condition of the wounded Chicago woman.

“When she got shot, they took her out the side quickly,” Gibeault said. “Police came very fast.”

New Orleans’ district attorney said Monday, “Rome is burning. Rome is actually burning, and we need all hands on deck on how we deal with crime. ... A citizen having a meal gets shot through the wall of one of our legendary establishments. So, I want to be here to have lunch to let them know I’m standing with them.”

Clark said Sophie B. Wright’s students and faculty are trying to cope with Walker’s homicide.

“When something like this happens, it renders our kids hopeless, and we just have to come together,” she said. “We’re afraid to go to restaurants now.”

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