Reward doubled after spate of murders in New Orleans

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The Independent US

A young woman shot to death in her home yesterday morning became at least the seventh New Orleans murder victim of the new year.

Investigators did not know whether the incident was domestic violence or a home invasion, said officer Sabrina Richardson, a police spokeswoman. The victim, whose identity was not released, was said to be in her early 20s. Her house in the Uptown section of New Orleans had been ransacked but police did not know whether anything had been taken.

Seven people have been shot to death since New Year's Day in New Orleans. Five of the shootings, all unrelated, occurred within a 14-hour span on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Also, a body with signs of physical trauma was found onWednesday wrapped in a rug. That death has not been classified but could bring the total for the 5-day-old year to eight.

The spate of killings dashed hope that the city's police chief offered on New Year's Day when he said he believed the increase in violence that has plagued parts of the city in the past several months had been brought under control.

One of Thursday's victims was independent filmmaker Helen Hill; her husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas, a physician who treats the city's poor, was injured.

Police did not release the names; they were identified by weeping friends and neighbors who gathered in front of the little white house where the killing occurred. They had moved to the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood near the French Quarter about a year after Hurricane Katrina wiped out their home in the Mid-City neighborhood.

"They were wonderful people. Two bright spots in New Orleans. They gave us hope that people could live together. And they'd do anything for anybody," said Sheri Branch, who was taking care of the couple's 2-year-old son while Gailiunas was hospitalized.

Gailiunas, who was in stable condition Thursday, opened a clinic for poor people in the Treme neighborhood in 2004. It was flooded by Katrina a year later.

No witnesses to any of the killings has come forward, police said Thursday, begging for help to solve the most recent murders.

Assistant Superintendent Steven Nicholas described the recent killings as brazen acts, often committed in broad daylight and, in one case, within a block of police officers.