New Orleans police still have a number of unanswered questions about the fatal shooting early Saturday of a Tulane graduate in town scouting wedding locations, but they believe that his death was the result of a robbery, said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.
Thomas Rolfes, 25, was a 2011 graduate of Tulane University who had flown back to New Orleans on Friday for the weekend with his fiancee to scout locations for their wedding, Harrison said at a news conference Monday afternoon. The couple took separate flights, and Rolfes went out drinking with friends after he arrived, while his fiancee opted to go on to bed in their hotel room, Harrison said.
Rolfes is known to have been at Ms. Mae’s bar on Magazine Street earlier in the night, but surveillance video from a gas station on South Claiborne Avenue shows the young man making purchases around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 7, Harrison said. About an hour later, his body was discovered on nearby Amelia Street with a fatal gunshot wound to the chest, Harrison said.
Investigators are still trying to determine exactly what went wrong in that unexplained last hour of Rolfes’ life, Harrison said. His hands were injured in ways that suggest a struggle, and his wallet was missing, Harrison said.
“The motive was robbery,” Harrison said. “At some point, the robbery turned deadly.”
Among the unanswered questions that investigators are focusing on is how Rolfes got from the bar on Magazine Street to the gas station on South Claiborne without a vehicle, Harrison said. The surveillance video also shows Rolfes buying two bottles of water, raising the possibility that one of them might have been for someone else with him, Harrison said.
No gunfire was reported in the area between the time of Rolfes’ purchases and the discovery of his body, Harrison said.
“There is a gap in the time about what we know about Point A and Point B,” Harrison said.
While investigators have found “multiple” surveillance videos related to the case, they are asking residents all over Uptown to review their own cameras for anything that might help, says Sgt. Andrew Waldron. Anyone with information is urged to call the NOPD Homicide Division at 658-658-5300 to speak to a detective, or CrimeStoppers at 822-1111 to leave an anonymous tip that could be eligible for a cash reward.
Rolfes is the 40th murder victim recorded in the city of New Orleans this year (as defined by the FBI, which tracks crime statistics). Harrison said that the figure remains down by 33 percent compared to last year, but is still far too high (a city of New Orleans’ size with a “normal” murder rate would have 40 homicides a year) — a point painfully driven home every time he has to meet with the families of murder victims, as he did this morning with Rolfes’ parents and fiancee.
“They are devastated over this tragic incident, and they can’t understand why this happened,” Harrison said. “As the chief, I can tell you that these conversations are never easy. No one should have to go through losing a child.”
To read our live coverage of the news conference, see below: