Jake Rovacsek and Toben Clements were shot in New Orleans this week. Photos / Instagram/Facebook
Hurricane Katrina isn’t the only spectre haunting residents of Algiers, the New Orleans neighbourhood where a pair of Australians were shot on Tuesday morning local time.
Crime and poverty are daily realities for those living in the oldest part of the city, across the water from the thriving French Quarter best known for bars, strip clubs and blues music.
The predominantly African American neighbourhood bordering the Mississippi River is home to about 50,000 people. It was reported in 2015, following a spike in homicides, that Algiers had become the deadliest neighbourhood in America.
“You know what time it is?”The two Australians – named this morning as Jake Rovacsek and Toben Clements – were headed to Algiers when it all went wrong.
What Rovacsek and Clements were doing before they were shot is still being investigated. Police believe they were trying to buy drugs at a bar known as The Swamp on popular Bourbon Street about 4am.
One victim was shot in the stomach and the other was shot in the chest. Both are believed to be in a stable condition in a New Orleans hospital.
The pair, 21 and 23, were in the United States representing West Australia’s Curtin University at the Intercollegiate Mining Games. New Orleans police said they approached “an unknown black male”. The students left the bar and followed the man into a dark-coloured sedan where a driver was waiting.
“The driver took the two victims toward Algiers and along the way, he told them that it would cost several hundred dollars to purchase drugs,” police said in a statement.
“The victims told the driver they did not have the money available. When they arrived at LB Landry Avenue and Shepard Street, the pair said they exited the vehicle and were approached by another unknown male who demanded their money.
“When they told him they didn’t have it, the unknown male shot them both and then jumped in the vehicle with the unknown driver and fled the scene.”
Police said one of the shooters offered a frightening warning before bullets were fired.
“You know what time it is?” he reportedly shouted.
Algiers had the highest death toll of any neighbourhood in America in 2015. Photo / Flickr
“It ripped my tongue in several places”
Australian Amy Matthews knows how dangerous New Orleans can be. In 2014, during a gap year from university studies, she was shot in the face during a mass shooting near Bourbon Street.
Matthews, 21 at the time, was 17,000km from her home in Perth when she caught a stray bullet to the lip.
The Times Picayune newspaper reported that Matthews and a friend were walking when shots rang out. The bullet entered through her cheek and exited through her top lip. She lost all but seven of her teeth and suffered damage to her tongue and to the roof of her mouth.
“It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places,” she said at the time.
“Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.”
Matthews told Nine News her mouth “started filling with blood” before she knew what had happened.
“I opened my mouth into my hand and there was just blood and teeth in my hand, and I knew there was something more than just a knock to the face.
“I don’t really know what was going through my mind, to be honest. I was full of adrenaline, wondering what had happened. I just had no idea.”
Shot to death on the front porch of his home
Shootings like the one that injured the 21-year-old are common in New Orleans. In Algiers, police were forced to call for calm after homicides went through the roof. There were six homicides in four weeks in August and September, 2012, and 21 in 2015.
In December last year a 25-year-old man was shot and killed in a car in Algiers and a 23-year-old man was gunned down on the front porch of his home in the same neighbourhood.
On the same day that Rovacsek and Clements were shot, New Orleans police released a statement about a second double shooting.
The victims, 21 and 37, were shot by an unknown man after a fight allegedly broke out. The 21-year-old victim suffered a gunshot wound to the right hand, police said. The 37-year old victim suffered gunshot wounds to both feet and the left thigh, as well as a graze wound to the head.
Nearby, in Kenner, a 44-year-old man was arrested over a violent assault on his ex-wife, New Orleans news site The Advocate reported.
Police said Mark Taliancich dragged a knife across the woman’s chest in an attempt to kill her.
Crime rates in New Orleans have long been linked to entrenched poverty and drugs but the New York Times reported in 2010 that racial tensions following Hurricane Katrina also played a part.
The two Australians likely found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Their families have been contacted and are expected to travel to New Orleans to be their side.