NEW ORLEANS – The last thing James Curran remembered was the footsteps growing louder behind him.
The next thing he knew, his pockets were empty and his colleague lay motionless on the sidewalk next to him, his face in a pool of blood.
The Unitarian Universalist Association information-technology staffers who were in New Orleans for the religious association’s annual meeting were walking back to their hotel about 9 p.m. Saturday when a group of men rushed them from behind in the 200 block of Bienville Street in the French Quarter and launched the brief but brutal attack.
By the time the men ran away some 20 seconds later, Curran had a fractured nose. His colleague, Tim Byrne, was rushed to University Medical Center in critical condition where he remained Monday.
Now, one man is in custody, and police said they are looking for at least three others who were captured on a surveillance camera committing the attack on the Boston-area men.
Dejaun Paul, 21, surrendered to police on Monday, hours after surveillance video of the attack was made public. Police Superintendent Michael Harrison described him as the ring leader of the group in announcing the arrest.
“These people committed this crime out of the eyes of the police," Harrison said earlier in the day. "But they did not commit this crime out of the eyes of the community. It was caught on camera. He warned that detectives had already collected more images of the attackers and said that "in just a little while, everybody’s gonna see you, everybody's going to know exactly who you are."
Paul and his accomplices now face second-degree robbery charges instead of simple robbery because of the severity of the injuries.
State law defines second-degree robbery as taking “anything of value” from someone and inflicting “serious bodily injury.” It goes on to define serious bodily injury as someone being unconscious or in extreme physical pain, among other things.
Anyone convicted of that crime must serve a minimum of three years and no more than 40 years.
UUA spokeswoman Rachel Walden said Curran was treated and released following Saturday's attack. The nature of Byrne’s injuries kept him hospitalized.
In New Orleans on Sunday, UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray told those who attended a morning service about the violent mugging and described Byrne's condition as serious.
"I and a number of senior staff were with Tim in the hospital last night and others, including our chaplains, are with him now," Frederick-Gray said. "Tim’s husband is en route to New Orleans from Boston. Our ... staff are profoundly shocked and filled with concern for their colleagues.”
Frederick-Gray concluded her remarks about the robbery by asking for prayers for the victims.
Attempts to contact Curran were unsuccessful, but a relative told WWL-TV the 32-year-old man remembered little about the attack beyond hearing footsteps behind him. The next thing he remembered, the relative said, he was on the ground and was robbed of his wallet.
He suffered a fractured nose and had stitches in his face, the relative said.
The video shows one of the attackers punch Curran in the head and then put him in a chokehold. The assailant continues to punch Curran as he struggles to drag Curran to the ground.
Almost simultaneously, another man delivers a swift blow Byrne’s head, at which point he collapses to the ground face first. The attacker quickly rummages through Byrne’s pockets as two other men run up and appear to help rob both victims.
The four robbers run away moments later as they throw Curran, who appears dazed, to the ground.
Seconds later, one of the robbers runs back into frame and briefly lifts Byrne off the sidewalk by the back of his shirt, revealing what appears to be a large pool of blood, before dropping him back on the sidewalk and running away.
Byrne remains motionless as he appears to gasp for air as his face remains against the brick sidewalk.
Curran eventually finds his glasses on the sidewalk and crawls to Byrne and appears to try to talk to him as two other people walk up to the men to offer assistance, with one taking out his cellphone, apparently to call 911.
NOPD 8th District Commander Nick Gernon said police could possibly release additional pictures of the men they believe are responsible for the attack and robbery by Monday afternoon.
Harrison said there were 50 officers on patrol in the 8th District when the mugging happened. Gernon, meanwhile, said overall crime in the district, which includes the French Quarter, Central Business District and parts of the Marigny, is down 39 percent year-to-date, while armed robberies are down about 45 percent and simple robberies are down about 40 percent.
“We don’t think this is a greater pattern of incidents that are occurring in the French Quarter,” Gernon said, “but this is a pretty bad attack.”
Anyone with information about the remaining attackers’ identities is asked to contact 8th District detectives at (504) 658-6080 or Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
New Orleans Advocate staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.
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