“I told you don’t you fuck with me.”
Standing over his victim, according to a witness, 54-year-old Ronald Gasser fired a final shot. No one knows how the verbal altercation began, but a former NFL running back was shot dead in the middle of the day Thursday in what authorities say was a “road rage” incident in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans. Witnesses say Joe McKnight, who once played for the New York Jets, was attempting to apologize as Gasser kept shouting at him.
The coroner will not say how many times the 28 year old was hit. Paramedics attempted to revive him, but McKnight, who was unarmed, died at the scene.
Despite statements from multiple eyewitnesses who say McKnight was not the aggressor, his killer has been released from custody after questioning. The Jefferson Parish sheriff’s department said they could see no reason to hold him. “Authorities said [McKnight] got in an argument with Gasser on a highway in the suburb of Terrytown and was shot outside his vehicle,” according to NBC News.
Witnesses say McKnight —who was the top running back recruit in the country when he came out of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana—was actually pulled from his vehicle before he was shot. Sheriff’s deputies plan to consult with prosecutors, who may consider taking the case to a grand jury. Charges in the killing are far from guaranteed.
A witness, who was leaving a nearby store on Thursday afternoon, told the Times-Picayune that she saw a man believed to be Gasser yelling at McKnight near the intersection of Beherman Highway and Holmes Boulevard. Their cars—Gasser’s blue Infinity and McKnight’s silver Audi SUV—were seen parked side-by-side at a traffic light. McKnight was standing next to his car trying to defuse the situation and apologize, she said, when Gasser, who was yelling, shot him.
The Louisiana native never stood a chance.
“He didn’t deserve it,” said Roxanne Lundy, McKnight cousin who came to the scene. “He was a good guy. It was 100 percent unnecessary.”
There is no way to know if race played a role in McKnight’s fatal shooting or how law enforcement has chosen to approach the investigation. But, the strictures of race are easily felt in the suburban New Orleans enclave of less than 25,000. Situated along the westerly banks of the Mississippi River, African American and white residents both account for around a third of the population.
Gasser is white. McKnight was black.
Gasser—who remained at the scene and turned over his gun to police—was held briefly overnight before being released. They let him go based, in part, on how Gasser described the incident. Investigators plan to meet Friday to review the case to decide if any charges will be brought and will seek a search warrant for his car.
“There’s no timeline for when this has to be done,” Col. John Fortunato of the parish sheriff’s office told the Daily News. “We want to get it right.”
Those assurances were widely met with derision and disbelief. Reaction was swift and passionate from McKnight’s former NFL teammates.
“I don’t get it,” Antonio Cromartie, who played with McKnight tweeted. “How in hell do you release someone who killed my brother, my friend a father a son a brother without charging him. Bull Crap.”
Family and friends rushed to defend Gasser, who was described by those who know him as a “loner” and a å“generous” man who works in telecommunications. But, if witnesses are correct, he was anything but generous when he took McKnight’s life. Gasser allegedly stood over McKnight—already bleeding from the first shots—and pumped another round into his body.
“This is some bullshit!!! He stood over him and shot him in broad daylight!!!” Kyle Williams, a former Kansas City Chiefs teammate tweeted. “And fucking stayed there!! Released and not charged!!?!?!?”
McKnight’s stepfather said he son always dreamed about playing professional football. “I’ve been knowing him from six, and this is just senseless, and it has to stop. Somewhere it has to stop.”
“It could have been any one of us,” she can be heard saying. “That man just got out and shot that man.”
McKnight, who spent four seasons in the NFL before joining the Canadian Football League, became the second person who’d played in the NFL to die in a road rage incident in Louisiana this year. Retired Saint Will Smith was shot and killed in April, in Orleans, after a fender bender. His wife was also shot in the leg.
McKnight was about to be signed by the Minnesota Vikings, said his stepfather Elmo Lee. “I just want people to know that this was not a troubled kid. The boy was just trying to make it back in the NFL, that’s all he wanted to do.”
McKnight, a young father who turned 28 last April, will never get that chance.