Two Unitarian Universalist Association employees were robbed in a violent attack in New Orleans on Saturday evening, June 24, as they walked to their hotel during the UUA General Assembly. One remains hospitalized in critical condition.
James Curran was released with a fractured nose and other milder injuries, but days after the attack, Tim Byrne remains hospitalized with an “acute brain injury,” according to New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison. UUA officials say Byrne’s condition is slowly improving. UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray, in a letter June 29, said doctors are “cautiously optimistic about the prognosis for his recovery.”
Curran and Byrne are members of the UUA’s Information Technology staff group, and were working as part of the team that broadcast General Assembly events and supported off-site delegates.
A surveillance camera filmed the brutal robbery by four men that left Byrne motionless on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. New Orleans police said June 28 that all four suspects are in custody and will be charged with second-degree robbery. Two of the suspects, Dejuan Paul, 21, and Joshua Simmons, 18, turned themselves in June 26; police arrested Nicholas Pogozelski, 18, and Rashaad Piper, 20, on June 28. Three had been residents at Covenant House, a shelter for young adults at risk.
The robbery took place at the edge of the French Quarter, only a few blocks from the hotels where many of the 4,000-plus Unitarian Universalists were staying for the UUA’s annual convention and business meeting.
Frederick-Gray informed the General Assembly about the attack at the start of the Sunday morning worship service on June 25, to audible gasps. She invited worshipers and UUs around the world to hold Byrne and Curran in prayer.
In her message to Unitarian Universalists, Frederick-Gray said, “We continue to send Tim and James and their partners and loved ones our positive thoughts, care, and support in this time.”
She added: “I also want to acknowledge the sorrow, fear, anger, and heartbreak of seeing a loved one, a member of our community, violently attacked. . . . Throughout the General Assembly, we reflected on the narratives and wider systems of oppression that perpetuate both systemic and personal violence. This week, those reflections became personal and proximate.”
Frederick-Gray invoked defense attorney Bryan Stevenson’s remarks in his Ware Lecture to the General Assembly that “simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” She invited Unitarian Universalists to hold the attackers “with the universal love” they also hold for Curran and Byrne.
The UUA is accepting donations to its staff assistance fund to aid the injured employees and their families.