Coroner: No Evidence of Evacuee Murders

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Dr. Frank Minyard, New Orleans' coroner, says he has no evidence to support some reports and claims of murders at the city's Convention Center and Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Instead, officials are focusing on autopsies of victims from nursing homes and hospitals to find out if any died from negligence.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today Louisiana officials will release more details about the deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,100 people are listed as having died in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Louisiana officials will also address questions about how some people died. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

In the frantic days following Katrina, the world was shocked by the pictures and stories coming out of New Orleans: tens of thousands of evacuees at the Super Dome and convention center trapped in horrifying conditions. Some stories included reports of multiple murders and scores of bodies in those locations, but so far, according to New Orleans' coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard, the physical evidence gathered does not support those reports. He begins at the convention center.

Dr. FRANK MINYARD (New Orleans Coroner): There was one person that had a gunshot wound, but the other three were just normal deaths that--heart attacks and whatnot--that happened as a result of the hurricane. In the Super Dome, we had one person who either jumped or was pushed from high up inside and died from a fall, and there was no homicides or gunshot wounds of the people that we took out of there.

YDSTIE: In total, says the coroner, just six people died in the Super Dome. Inside the convention center, four bodies were recovered, not the 30 to 40 bodies rumored to be in the center's freezer. The coroner said that so far he has declared just seven deaths during the city's ordeal the result of gunshot wounds. All of the bodies are examined at the temporary morgue at St. Gabriel's, 60 miles west of New Orleans. Among the most horrifying stories to come out of the convention center was that of the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl. Those claiming to be eyewitnesses, including one who described the scene to an NPR reporter, said the girl's body, with her throat cut, was left in a woman's restroom. But Dr. Minyard says no body has been recovered that fits that description.

Dr. MINYARD: If something like that would have happened, then we would have known about it, and that's why I'm saying that it never happened.

YDSTIE: Minyard did say that determining whether someone had been raped was virtually impossible because of the deterioration of the bodies before recovery. The coroner says he is not surprised, however, that these stories emerged, given the desperate conditions.

Dr. MINYARD: You know how people are, and people exaggerate. Times like this, people hallucinate. I mean, you know, people are not themselves now and they think they saw things. I mean, they're not lying, you know, but they think they saw things that never happened.

YDSTIE: Right now, Minyard says, at the request of the state attorney general, he and his staff are focusing on autopsies of victims from nursing homes and hospitals to determine whether any died of negligence. The coroner says determining the exact time of death is impossible in most cases, so the date of death for all victims will be declared to be August 29th, the day Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. John Ydstie, NPR News.

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