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Katrina refugee slain, possibly for relief money

A man who sought safety from Hurricane Katrina in Tennessee was gunned down in the street and died, possibly during a robbery of his Red Cross relief money.
Sheila Airline holds a photo of her son, Don Maurice Airline, at her home in Kenner, La., on Thursday. Don Airline is the first known Katrina survivor murdered in a community hosting evacuees.Kevork Djansezian / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A man who sought safety from Hurricane Katrina in Tennessee was gunned down in the street and died, possibly during a robbery of his Red Cross relief money.

Don Maurice Airline, 24, of Metairie, La., was found on a secluded road with five gunshots to his head. Days before he was killed last week, the Red Cross gave him a debit card worth several hundred dollars.

Detective R. Kenneth Freeman said he knew of no other such killings of Katrina refugees and expressed sadness that the shooting happened in Chattanooga, where the Red Cross, churches and social agencies are helping hundreds who fled Katrina.

Investigators found five handgun shell casings with Airline’s body, less than a mile from a Red Cross shelter where he had stayed. Police were investigating whether robbery was the motive. No one has been charged.

Airline’s mother, Sheila Airline, described the death as “just senseless.”

‘They robbed him’
“For someone to take my child’s life, they robbed him. I know they robbed him because the Red Cross gave him money and the detective can’t find it,” she said Thursday in a telephone interview from Kenner, La.

Her son had left a Chattanooga nightclub with at least two men and a woman hours before his body was spotted early Saturday on a weedy roadside in south Chattanooga, Freeman said.

Sheila Airline, 41, said she went to stay with relatives in Louisiana when she evacuated Aug. 28, while he first went to Houston with some cousins.

“I told him to be careful,” his mother said. “I told him, ’You’re going to Houston and that’s a strange city and you don’t know what to expect. You be careful until you get home again.”

Airline moved on to Chattanooga on a bus provided by Chattanooga Disaster Rescue Efforts Inc. Airline and a cousin arrived in a group of 55 evacuees.

“This is how God had it planned,” Sheila Airline said. “He was evacuated out of the storm and out of the storm he gets killed.”

His mother said she learned of her son’s death when a Chattanooga detective called her cell phone while she was stuck in traffic.

“I said I was his mother and I asked, ’What did he do?’ He said, ’He didn’t do anything. We found him shot in the head.’

“I accepted it, but it wasn’t easy to hear that over the phone,” she said.

Victim warned to be careful
Adrian Davis, a volunteer with Chattanooga Disaster Rescue Efforts, said Airline was warned to be careful.

“He was very, very outgoing,” Davis said. “He was very adamant about having a new start in Chattanooga.”

Airline had initially stayed at the shelter in south Chattanooga but was moved to a motel, Red Cross officials said.

He visited the Red Cross center the day before his body was found, said Jerry Wilson, a service center manager. He requested additional financial help and replacements for Red Cross and Social Security cards.

Airline was a “very frustrated young man,” Wilson said. “I told him we had done all we could do as far as (financial) assistance was concerned.”

Wilson said Airline told him he was supposed to start a job the next day.

“It’s sad,” Wilson said. “I hate that it happened.”