Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- Malord Gales celebrated his 42nd birthday on Tuesday. There was food. Some cake. And prayer. Lots of prayer.

To what extent Gales could appreciate the loving attention is unknown. And it may never be known.

Ever since the robbery, the shooting and the unspeakable catastrophe from his injuries, Gales has been in a semi-vegetative state. The once-strapping athlete has spent the past decade locked into his own body, unresponsive to the outside world.

'They rendered him helpless,' said his mother, D'Marie Gales, holding back tears. 'If you look at him now, he can't function. And that's what hurts so bad.'

Gales was 31 years old when the bullets tore through his body. He was a graduate of St. Augustine High School, where he was a popular student and wide receiver on the football team. Gales went on to work for eight years at Whole Foods Market, moving up the ladder to assistant manager.

The crime unfolded on November 15, 2001 at the former Whole Foods on Esplanade Avenue. Three gunmen burst into the store after closing and stole about $300 that had been collected for the victims of 9-11. Then they ordered Gales and another employee to open the store's safe.

But the employees didn't have access to the safe. So the gunmen opened fire, critically wounding both men. One employee lost a kidney, but recovered from his wounds.

Malord Gales did not.

Gales was rushed to Charity Hospital, where he underwent emergency for wounds to the upper thigh and abdomen. For three days afterward, he was in the intensive care unit and looked like he was on the way to recovery. He was alert. Talking. Joking with family and friends.

At the end of one nightly visit, his mother left to catch some sleep. She said she will never forget his last words to her: 'Mom, I'm lucky to be alive.''

But then tragedy was heaped upon tragedy. At some point during the night, Gales' ventilator tube became dislodged, starving his brain of oxygen for precious minutes.

'We went that next morning,' D'Marie Gales recalled. 'When we arrived at Charity Hospital, that's when we discovered Malord's condition. Nobody called us. Nobody summoned us one way or the other. We were all in shock.'

At the time, Gales was engaged to be married. He and his fiancee bought a house and had just started adding furniture. He had a large, loving circle of friends.

But his devastating injuries ended all that.

'They furnished the house,' his mother said. 'And they were getting ready to furnish the house with kids, too. But that didn't happen. That was the unfortunate thing.'

There was a police investigation, but detectives were stymied. The robbery and shooting matched a pattern of similar crimes in the Mid-City area, but no solid leads emerged.

Almost as suddenly as the lives of Gales and his family were turned upside down, all trails seemed to go cold.

For a few months, D'Marie Gales called the lead detective for updates. During one especially downbeat conversation, the detective was apologetic. It would be the last such call, she said.

'And when he said he's sorry, he didn't have anything. I said to him, 'Thank you sir. I won't be calling you anymore.'

Because nobody died, the case didn't get the attention of a murder. Media coverage last less than 24 hours. No Crimestoppers reward was announced. And there has been no cold case squad to revive the investigation, as there is with homicides.

Crimestoppers Director Darlene Cusanza said it might not be widely known, but tips in non-fatal shootings are eligible for the same cash rewards as homicides. That's especially important in a city where non-fatal shootings historically outnumber murders by about ratio of 7-to-1, according to crime statistics.

At the time Gales was left in his limbo between life and death, the reward stood at $1,000. Today, the going rate is $2,500 and the offer still stands, Cusanza said.

'Shootings should be taken just as seriously as we look at other things, such as homicides. We need to encourage people to know that. We need them to come forward,' Cusanza said. 'It's never too late. People need to know that no matter how long a case stays open, if you give us that information, someone's going to pay attention. Someone's going to look into that.'

Despite the passage of time, the family believes the case can be solved.

'The night has eyes. Somebody saw. Somebody knows. Somebody can tell us something,' Gales said.

But family members are no longer bitter, no longer fixated on the crime. A devout Catholic, D'Marie Gales said she has forgiven the people who shot her son. These days, most of her energy is focused on Malord's 24-hour-a-day nursing care. And prayer for a miracle.

Helen Hampton, a cousin by marriage, arranged a rosary for Gales' birthday. So on Monday, the day before Gales' birthday, 25 people packed inside the family's small shotgun house in the 7th Ward to pray. Nobody knows how much Malord Gales see or hears, but the group's voices were as strong and resounding as their faith.

'I've seen tears in his eyes,' Hampton said. 'I believe down deep inside that he can hear us. That he knows that we're there for him. For the prayers.'

So the family carries on, even when it hurts beyond words.

'You just felt so secure when he put his arms around you to hold you. I miss that. Many Mother's Days have come and gone, and I don't have that hug anymore,' his mother said. 'He looks deep into your eyes. And I just ask God every day to give him back. Heal him.'

And so, too, Malord Gales lives on. Trapped inside a still body. Surrounded by love and prayer, prayers that someday, somehow, justice will prevail and life will return to where it was once so full.

Anyone with information about this crime is urged to call Crimestoppers at 822-1111.

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