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Jorge Johnson, 40, moved to Houston about a month after Katrina, after spending several weeks in a Baton Rouge shelter. A construction worker and painter originally from Honduras, Johnson had lived in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. He evacuated in his 2003 blue Dodge Caravan with his girlfriend, her sister and her sister's boyfriend. The boyfriend, Dwight Robertson, was Johnson's friend as well, so they all stuck together after the storm.
They spent days calling friends to find out where everyone was. One friend suggested that they crash at his apartment in Houston, so they piled back into the Dodge Caravan. Unfortunately, Houston had minimal housing vacancies when Katrina came along, and most of the cheaper apartments were clustered in large complexes in southwest Houston. So as the aid money started rolling out, tens of thousands of evacuees found themselves in the same corner, like it or not.
At first the Catalina apartment complex was nice and quiet, Johnson says. The apartments are bordered by a brick wall with New Orleans--style lamps. But as weeks went by and more evacuees moved in, he started spending more time inside. He and Robertson, who had worked as a cook in the French Quarter, cooked dinner at each other's apartments and watched TV. Soon almost everyone in Johnson's building was from New Orleans.
The shootings started near the tennis courts, Johnson remembers. On Nov. 5, a New Orleans evacuee shot a Houston man in the hand. In December, a stray bullet was fired into Johnson's apartment. It entered through the glass patio door, went through the living room and into the bedroom. Luckily, no one was home. Then on Christmas Eve, a man from New Orleans got into a fight. He was shot in the stomach and killed just after midnight. Police interviewed at least one witness. Twelve hours later, they dropped him back at the apartment building. He was shot in the head before he got inside.
In December, the killings hit a peak in Houston, as evacuees were implicated in 11 murders. As if on cue, B-Stupid Harris resurfaced, according to Houston police, who said he was wanted for questioning in connection with the murder of a New Orleans evacuee--shot to death at a freeway intersection at 4:20 a.m. on Dec. 17 after a fight at a nearby pool hall. Harris' name would become familiar to the entire Houston police department. "Harris was the axle at the center of our wheel. He kept coming up," says Sergeant Brian Harris, a homicide investigator with the Houston police.
Violence picked up around the country at the same time. In January, three New Orleans evacuees were accused of killing two men after a fight at a music hall in Oklahoma City. A juvenile evacuee was charged with accessory to murder in Baton Rouge after a man was found shot dead in the street. In general, New Orleans criminals seemed reluctant to break into the drug market in their new towns. Instead, they dealt to their old customers in a new place. Houston, in particular, had long been a distribution point for drugs coming from Central and South America into New Orleans, so it wasn't hard for dealers to set up shop again. As aid money started rolling in, crime increased. "They were victimizing each other," says Sergeant Harris. "The new crime was to steal one another's FEMA money."