The sounds of laughter and revelry were still in the air minutes after last year’s Mardi Gras parade in Pass Christian had ended.
Then the unthinkable happened. A group of men reportedly sought out two other men to settle a feud. Chaos unfolded as shots were fired, killing two bystanders and wounding four others as hundreds of people scattered.
Details of what happened one year ago, on the afternoon of Feb. 7, 2016, and who shot whom, will likely be made public soon. Four men indicted on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault are scheduled to stand trial April 3.
The decades-old parade is the St. Paul Carnival Association parade, which has supported Catholic education since 1930.
The parade is widely known to be one of the rowdiest Mardi Gras parades on the Mississippi Coast. The parade route makes a loop in the quaint downtown area, with people near the start of the parade leaving while others are just arriving.
‘That’s not who we are’
Some Pass Christian residents don’t think what happened last year will reduce attendance at this year’s parade.
“I don’t think it’s a family-oriented parade, but it is a tradition in Pass Christian,” said a Pass native who lives near the parade route and didn’t want to be identified. “The faithful enjoy it.”
The woman said she had walked home from last year’s parade with a group of family and friends and heard sirens. Her young adult son had not returned home yet. She walked toward the parade route to see if her son was safe.
“I walked by a dead body and looked at the tennis shoes,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s not him. My son wasn’t wearing those tennis shoes.’”
Michael Bowser, 70, said he’s not sure if his wife and children will attend this year. He has been wheelchair-bound for several years and watches as people head to the parade and leave while he enjoys food with friends.
No one expected something like the shootings would happen in Pass Christian, Bower said.
“This is not a crime-infested city. The people who came into our city and committed these crimes are not from here and they put us in a bad light. That’s not who we are.”
But some say the shootings are enough to keep them away.
Teresa Dickey Frontz of Gulfport said she sent her 10-year-old daughter to the parade with friends last year.
“She was safe, but I will not send her again.” Frontz said. “I can’t take any chances.”
College student Laianna Whaley, also of Gulfport, said she attended a Pass parade when she was a kid.
“It was horrible,” Whaley said. “I had grown women push me around and steal beads right off my neck, and I also saw three fights. Last year’s shooting was just another addition to my list of reasons to not go to the Pass parade.”
An estimated 50,000 people attended last year. About 1,500 people were in the area of Davis Avenue and Ladnier Street when gunfire broke out about 15 minutes after the parade ended. The crime scene was just north of where the parade began and ended.
Police Chief Tim Hendricks said plans have been made for increased police presence for the event on Feb. 26.
Also, St. Paul organizers have decided to start the parade 30 minutes earlier, at 11:30 a.m. Some streets will close to traffic at 9 a.m. and no parking will be allowed on U.S. 90. Parking tips are provided on St. Paul’s website, st.paulcarnival.com.
Hendricks said he still expects a crowd, adding that the shootings only happened in Pass Christian because of a feud between out-of-town residents.
“It could have happened anywhere,” Hendricks said.
“I don’t know of anything we could have done to have stopped it. If the felons involved had already been violated (their probation revoked) by other law enforcement agencies, they wouldn’t have been on the street to begin with.”
The slain men, Isaiah “Winky” Lee Major III, 43, of Bay St. Louis and Carlos “Los” Bates, 29, of Gulfport, were described by police as innocent bystanders. Both men were fathers..
The four facing prosecution
The four men who await trial were each indicted on two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault.
Three of them are felons from Gulfport who are in custody and also each face a firearm charge. The three also were on probation for felony convictions.
Gulfport residents Malcolm Dedeaux Jr. and Jessie Lee Williams Jr., both 24, are each held on bonds that total $2.7 million after serving prison time for violating terms of release on felony convictions. Dedeaux served time on a drug conviction. Williams served time for a drive-by shooting and accessory after the fact to murder.
Gulfport resident Jermaine Ratcliffe, 24, Williams’ cousin, is still serving time on a cocaine conviction but is held at the county jail.
DeLise resident Donald Dedeaux, 24, Malcolm Dedeaux’s cousin, is free on bonds that total $2.6 million.
The shooting happened almost 10 years to the day that Williams’ father and namesake was fatally beaten by corrections officers at the Harrison County jail on Feb. 4, 2006. Williams was 15 at the time.