NEW ORLEANS - Family and friends of a young man who said he wanted to be a doctor one day, are planning a funeral after shots were fired at a crowded birthday party.

They are grieving over the loss of a former St. Aug honor student, who was caught in crossfire after he just stopped by a party with some friends over the weekend.

By all accounts, Zachary Nelson, 21, was an honorable young man and a leader among his friends and football teammates.
It happened around 12:30 Saturday morning at a birthday party on Tulane Avenue in Mid-City.

"Like I never thought I'd see Zach like go out like that. Like, he didn't deserve that at all," said Brandon Williams, Zach's friend who was with him the night of the shooting. "And to say he went out like that, that just don't make sense to me, like no sense at all."

It was a party Zachary's friends say they really weren't planning to go to, and they had just been there for 10 minutes, outside, when they say two guys got in a fight and then gunfire sent them running for cover behind their car. But Zach never made it.
No one should have to lay out a burial suit for a 21-year-old, but today Zachary Nelson's mother and father make sure the shirt and tie bear the colors of a St. Aug Purple Knight. The smart, polite, young man loved his school, football team and friends. His aunt hands his mom a small bag from the coroner's office. In it, Zach's designer glasses, considered his signature that he worked extra hours to pay for. And he not only worked hard to fulfill his dreams, he also encouraged others to do the same, like his friends.

"He'd tell them, 'You've got to go get it.' He'd give you like a whole manual on what to do to go get what you needed to get," said Williams.

His little sister said the same.

"He was there for me. He came to my (music) performances. He was always there and he always said to keep going, keep trying to reach your goal, to get your education. 'Don't let anybody distract you. Take care of Mama. Take care of everybody, and do what you came here to do, get an education and be successful,'" said
Zoë Nelson, Zach's sister.

If your car broke down, Zach came to fix it. If his Bethlehem Lutheran Church needed something, he offered.

"If I asked him to do something in church or whatever, 'When Grandmother? What you want me to do?' Not no stuttering. Not no, 'I'll see when Grandmother.' And he was just like that," said his grandmother Leona Thomas.

Ti Nana loved his $6,000 braces-corrected-perfect smile. He was more than a nephew and Godson.

"He was my nephew but he was like, he was my baby too, because I was there when he was born. I was in the delivery room. That was my baby," said aunt Darria Thomas as she cried.
Zach's mom remembers she needs to call UPS to tell them Zach won't be at work today, nor will he be at his second retail job, or vo tech classes in Luling. Nor will he be able to fight for his dream to one day be a neurosurgeon and heal lives.

Zach lived in New Orleans East, but former neighbors Ann and Donna in Algiers said they knew him from childhood and wanted everyone to know he was a wonderful young man.