Following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, the doctor from FEMA — Beron doesn’t remember his name — came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.
“I’ve got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome,” Beron recalled the doctor saying.
The real total?
Six, Beron said.
Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the handoff of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.
State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been murdered inside the stadium.
The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, overwhelmingly African-American masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. The mayor told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an “almost animalistic state.”
Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of murdered bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines assert that, while anarchy reigned at times and people suffered indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.
Inside the Superdome, where National Guardsmen performed rigorous security checks before allowing anyone inside, only one shooting has been verified — and even that shooting, injuring Louisiana Guardsman Chris Watt of the 527th Engineer Battalion, has been widely misreported, said Maj. David Baldwin, who led the team of soldiers who arrested the alleged assailant.
Watt had indeed been attacked inside one of the Dome’s locker rooms, where he entered with another soldier. In the darkness, as they walked through about six inches of water, Watt’s attacker hit him with a metal rod, a piece of a cot. But the bullet that penetrated Watt’s leg came from his own gun — he accidentally shot himself during the commotion. The attacker was sent to jail, Baldwin said.
One widely circulated story, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsman, held that “30 or 40 bodies” were stored in a Convention Center freezer.
But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah’s Casino, said Col. John Edwards of the Arkansas National Guard, who conducted the review.