Joe Cahill was downsizing.
He cleaned up his Gunbarrel bedroom before heading out on tour with Leftover Salmon last spring and presented his housemate and longtime friend Kara Murphy a black trash bag stuffed with some of his old clothing.
"I worked at Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow, and he said, 'Here's a bunch of awesome clothes for your 'BoHos,'" said Murphy, who had known Cahill since they both attended high school in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
Cahill, 40, headed out on tour as a lighting technician for the band long popular in Colorado and beyond for its patented "Cajun slamgrass" sound and good-time vibes.
A Death in New Orleans: Part 1
This story will appear in Sunday's print edition of the Daily Camera. A second part, delving into the aftermath of the shooting of Boulder's Joe Cahill, will appear in print and online Monday.
Murphy would never see her old friend again.
But she does not view Cahill's parting with some old duds as a gesture signifying anything more than what it was — a modest donation to charity and a bit of spring cleaning.
"Not for one second did I think he was not coming home from that tour," she said recently. "I was waiting for him to bring home 'tour food,' which was like mini salt shakers and two beers. The leftovers."
But Cahill, the son of a career New York City cop, did not return.
His life came to a violent and inexplicable conclusion one year ago Monday, the day after that tour wrapped. His life was ended with four bullets to the abdomen shot from a Sig Sauer .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun in the front room of a stranger's shotgun-style home in a tough neighborhood of New Orleans. He died within earshot of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival underway at the nearby Fair Grounds Race Course.
Cahill apparently had barged into a modest home where he knew no one, with cocaine and alcohol in his system. And although the shooting has been ruled "justified" by police, to his loved ones, that finding doesn't equate to an adequate explanation.
Murphy is just one of many Cahill friends and family members still left with pain — and with questions.
"What the hell happened?" Murphy asked earlier this month. "Everybody said, 'It doesn't matter what happened because it doesn't change the outcome.' ... I get that. But I do spend a lot of time wondering what happened and why."
And, she said, "Now I have the rest of his clothes."
"He was the baby," said Ken Cahill, his big brother, 52. "There were six of us; now there are five."
Joe Cahill made his mark at Yorktown High School most memorably as an athlete, setting some long-standing records in lacrosse and starring as a football player, too.
His lacrosse exploits earned him an athletic scholarship at the University of Massachusetts, his brother said, which fell through after he suffered a shoulder injury. He ended up instead at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Quentin Young, an entertainment reporter for the Longmont Times-Call, the Daily Camera's sister paper, was Cahill's classmate at SUNY-Oswego, but didn't meet him until 1993, the fall of their senior year, when both were part of a study-abroad program in London.
"We got to know each other on the way over there because we both had guitars," Young said. "We both had guitars out, playing on the plane."
For the balance of his life, Cahill was known to often grab the nearest guitar. Dylan, The Grateful Dead. Neil Young. Songs he wrote himself. It was always about the music.
"We both played guitar, we both liked to have fun and play music, and so we hung out for three months in London," Young said. "He was with a slightly different group, but we got together and jammed pretty regularly."
They would graduate in 1994, and each found his way to Colorado. They were attracted to Colorado by the music scene and the state's reputation as hospitable turf for the jam band ethos epitomized by the Dead and Phish — another group about which Cahill grew passionate. Young and Cahill became housemates in Fort Collins. The music almost never stopped.
A fund has been established at the Bank of the West to benefit Joe Cahill's 17-year-old daughter, Cassidy. Contributions can be made at the bank's branches in the name of Cassidy Cahill.
"He was not technically very talented, but he was the kind of guy where he entertained you; he was fun to watch, and he didn't care who was watching or what they thought of his talent, or his lack of talent," Young said.
In addition to his guitar, Cahill also brought a drum kit into the Fort Collins house, helping to turn their residence into a popular hangout.
"There were people in and out all the time," Young said. "I was playing in a band, we both had long hair, and we did a lot of partying."
Eventually, Young said, a couple more girls from Yorktown High School showed up and moved in. One, Andrea Rossin, would become Joe's wife in 1996 and give him his one and only child, daughter Cassidy. She was named for the Grateful Dead song.
Cahill's strong identification with the band never wavered. His ATM PIN at the end of his life, when the numbers were converted to letters, was D-E-A-D.
Joe Cahill came from a large Irish-Catholic family whose patriarch, George Cahill, was a New York City cop. George Cahill had a 35-year career in the department, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
"He was in employee relations," said Joe Cahill's sister, Pat McCullough, 57. "When a cop got hurt, or shot and killed, my dad would be on the front page of the (New York) Post with the widow."
The Catholicism ran deep, Santa Claus not even arriving each year until the family was back from church on Christmas morning. The family would take up an entire pew of its own.
McCullough said she and her siblings were taught "everything" about guns by their father, but never knew where his service weapon was kept.
"We don't have guns, and I never really thought about them until this Sandy Hook thing," she said.
"This Sandy Hook thing" was the Dec. 12, 2012, murders of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. McCullough and her husband live one mile from the school.
"That happened on a Friday, and I picked Joe up on Sunday," she said. "I had everyone to my house the following week for Christmas. He came in for a couple of weeks. ... It was a three-ring circus. It was disturbing. It was a big envelopment, and everybody wanted to pay their respects."
That would also be the final Christmas for George Cahill. He died after an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer, surrounded by family members — including Joe — at his Yorktown Heights home March 13, 2013.
Joe Cahill's brother and sister remember their kid brother going the extra mile in comforting their father through George Cahill's final days.
"He was home whenever he could be there. He would do whatever needed to be done to help," Ken Cahill said. "He would cook, clean and take him to doctors. He would watch football, whatever."
Joe Cahill was there for the final two weeks of his father's life, doing "24/7" duty at his parents' Cape-style home, his siblings said.
"He and I would do the night shifts with my dad," McCullough said. "Joe would sleep on the couch, and Dad would be in his chair."
Ken Cahill remembers their father's last days as "amazing quality time."
"It wasn't 'woe is me' from the get-go. We were all on the thankful page, for the time that we did have, when he did pass," he said.
McCullough, 15 years older than Joe Cahill, said the age difference was such that at times, when he was growing up, it was like he was her own kid. He took his first Holy Communion at age 7, during McCullough's wedding, on May 10, 1980.
Thirty-three years to the day later — and only eight weeks after her father's death — she would deliver her kid brother's eulogy at the very same parish, St. Patrick's Church in Yorktown Heights.
"I told myself I needed to do it," McCullough said. "I'm the oldest. I felt like I needed to do that. They (her brothers and sisters) all thought I couldn't do it. But I did it. I had to do it, and I did it."
* * *
"I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream."
— "Cassidy," by John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir
April 27, 2013 — a Saturday — marked the final night of Leftover Salmon's spring tour. They had played roughly 10 shows that took them across Florida and Georgia, ending the road trip at the Howlin' Wolf, a low-key but roomy venue on the edge of New Orleans' French Quarter.
A typical Salmon show might see the crew arrive at a venue at 2 p.m. to start the load-in and set-up. It would not be uncommon to finish packing out at 2 a.m. the next day.
"But with these guys, it was fun," said Mario Casilio, who handles front-of-house sound and production management for the band and worked alongside Cahill, whom he called a steady and dependable colleague.
"Joe was a very kind of high-energy and positive kind of fella. He was very dedicated to his craft and his art, and did his job very well."
Cahill was a respected veteran of the music scene in Boulder and beyond, having logged time before Leftover Salmon with saxophonist Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and the String Cheese Incident, and handled lighting at both the Fox and Boulder theaters.
The Fox Theatre was packed last May 13 when The Motet and members of Leftover Salmon and the String Cheese Incident played a tribute concert there for Cahill that benefited Cassidy, who also sang in her father's memory.
Casilio, whose first show with the band was in August 2012, said he was initially surprised that Leftover Salmon carried its own lighting system from show to show.
"But when we started doing shows, I started realizing what it really added to the show," Casilio said. "It was mostly Joe and what he did with the lights that made it special. He knew the music really well and cared about what it looked like."
The night of April 27 — actually, the morning of April 28 — was more arduous than usual.
Leftover Salmon went on late — late enough that the band didn't finish until about 4 a.m. that Sunday, and the crew didn't complete its load-out until the sun was threatening the horizon.
Casilio said a few members of the crew headed to a Rampart Street bar called the Dragon's Den to unwind, then the after-show party moved to Igor's on St. Charles, a funky 24-hour joint known for its Bloody Marys and coin-operated laundry machines in the back.
The group broke up at Igor's about 10 a.m. By this time, most members of Leftover Salmon's tour group were on their way to the airport, save for Cahill, Casilio and bassist Greg Garrison.
Cahill already had made arrangements to remain for Jazz Fest, staying with New Orleans resident Wendy Pabian, a platonic friend with whom he had connected the previous year. She had been at the Howlin' Wolf show hours earlier.
"Our plan was to meet up later that afternoon at the festival," Casilio said. "I had to go back to the bus to get my luggage, and he was already moved into Wendy's place."
Casilio remembers nothing unusual about his colleague when they parted company.
"He was normal. I didn't see anything wrong with him," Casilio said. "We had all been drinking a little bit, but it wasn't anything crazy. It wasn't sloppy drunk. We were laughing, having a good time. We were all excited to be done with the tour."
Pabian, who did not respond to a request from the Daily Camera for comment, contacted an attorney after New Orleans Police Detective Tindell Murdock last year made repeated visits to her apartment seeking interviews.
She eventually told Murdock by phone that "she did not wish to make any statements regarding her encounter with Joseph Cahill on the date of the incident," according to a police report.
Pabian's most expansive remarks on the events leading up to the tragedy came in a letter to Ken Cahill, which he then made available to detectives. It had been addressed to "Leftover Salmon, Family and Friends of Joe."
According to her letter, as documented in the police report, she and Cahill left her residence in a cab headed for the Fair Grounds on Sunday.
Along the way, the report stated, "Mr. Cahill's laughter suddenly turned into anger and rage, at which time he began to yell and trash the interior of the vehicle. In his rage, Mr. Cahill also began to bite the side and top of the car while yelling at pedestrians."
After Cahill tossed his sunglasses out the window, Pabian wrote in her letter, he "pulled his chain from his neck, which caused him to bleed, and then tried to jump out of the window. As they got closer to the festival, Mr. Cahill jumped out of the cab. Ms. Pabian attempted to calm and restrain Mr. Cahill, but was pushed away. He then ran away and was not seen again."
Several people close to Cahill who have investigated his final hours believe that a third person was in the cab, a New Orleans-area man with music-business connections they identify as "Ramon." Such an individual is not referenced in any publicly available police records.
Casilio confirmed that "Ramon" was still with Cahill at the time he bid Cahill goodbye at Igor's.
Cahill's siblings continue to pursue a more complete picture of their brother's death with a persistence that likely would make their police lieutenant father proud.
Little more than a month ago, McCullough sent Pabian a letter via the U.S. Postal Service, paying for it to be tracked so she could confirm its delivery.
The letter posed several questions, including, "What did he/they ingest (rumors range from mushrooms/acid/bath salts, but only cocaine was in his system.)" She also asked when Cahill got out of the cab, and whether the taxi was moving at the time — which might possibly explain some of the other minor injuries discovered in his autopsy.
And, McCullough wrote, "We still cannot comprehend what happened and none of us have been able to 'move on' until we can put the pieces together, as disturbing as it is."
She is still waiting for a response.
* * *
Police reports and interviews with eyewitnesses paint a picture of the bizarre and chaotic final minutes of Cahill's life — and reveal for the first time that the stranger's house where he died was not the first to which he tried to gain entrance.
Barry Davis and Reginald Anderson are two brothers who live in adjoining units on Laharpe Street in New Orleans' 7th Ward, just around the corner and down the block from the residence where Cahill was shot and killed.
"He tried to come inside my house. He wanted to come in," Anderson said in an interview earlier this year, as he and his brother nursed vodka and grapefruit juice while relaxing after a bit of landscaping.
"I'm like, 'Step back, man,'" Anderson said. "He stumbled back" toward the street. "He was drunk, or high, or something."
It was not long after 2 p.m.
Both men noticed obvious intoxication — and blood on Cahill's stomach and chest.
"He may have fallen and hurt his face. He did not look like he had been beat up," Davis said. "But that man was bloody, and that man was drunk."
As Cahill reeled uncertainly down the block, Davis had a bad premonition.
"A bloody white man, a mixed neighborhood," he said. "You do the math."
Farther down Laharpe Street, a resident who said he is acquainted with the man who shot Cahill said he spotted Cahill as he came down the block.
"He was in an argument with a black gentleman who was in his car," said the resident, who would provide only his first name, Frank.
He recalled that Cahill was shirtless and bleeding when he first noticed him.
"He's talking to this gentleman, and this guy tells him, 'Stop bleeding all over my car,'" Frank said. "A minute or two later, these two cops start coming down from the corner, trying to call the guy over."
The officers would report that Cahill was bleeding from his head.
Frank said he witnessed Cahill push one police officer off his bicycle and remove his Calvin Klein belt and throw it at the other officer before running toward North Broad Street.
Police reports identified the officers as Hilary Hunt and Stephen Neveaux, members of the New Orleans Police Department's bicycle unit.
"I'm like, really?" Frank said. "I'm trying to understand this. The cops were really, really trying to be polite with that guy. They weren't trying to be aggressive toward that guy. He was on a little something extra."
Cahill headed around the corner from Laharpe Street, onto the busier thoroughfare of North Broad Street. There at the corner, passing time sitting on the porch as he often does, was 70-year-old Jessie Clark, known throughout the neighborhood as "Mr. Jessie."
"He looked like his mind was not right. He was drunk or high or might have taken something," said Clark, who saw Cahill stepping into traffic, forcing cars to stop to avoid hitting him and behaving otherwise erratically. "Those two police officers should have taken him home, and then that never would have happened."
The police report detailing the investigation reflects Cahill's apparent belligerence when officers approached him. Just before Hunt was pushed from his bicycle, the report stated, Cahill told the officers, "Get away from me. I don't want any (expletive) help."
Across the street and a few doors down, eye doctor Jarrett Johnson, owner of side-by-side properties both on the National Register of Historic Places, was doing renovation work with some friends. She, too, saw Cahill endangering himself in traffic; others, she said, were scrambling to help him.
"They were trying to beckon him back out of the street so he wouldn't get hit," Johnson said.
She is accustomed to people coming through her neighborhood from Jazz Fest, sometimes so intoxicated, she said, they will fall down — and remain there for some time. Still, Cahill stood out.
"He was so combative," Johnson said. "He wasn't going willingly. They had to fight him to keep him out of traffic."
When she saw Cahill was out of harm's way — or so she thought — she refocused on her renovation work.
Officers Neveaux and Hunt, meanwhile, were still trying to catch up to Cahill, who was approaching a home at 1509 N. Broad St., a low-slung duplex with a short flight of stairs leading up to a shared front porch, no more than 6 feet from the sidewalk, an iron security grate over the front door.
But that front door was unlocked.
Both officers briefly lost sight of Cahill, but Neveaux, trailing behind, spotted Cahill entering 1509 N. Broad St. Moments later, a black woman exited the home and told the officer that someone she didn't know had barged in and was refusing to leave. Her husband and son, she said, were still inside.
The officers then heard a single gunshot. There are conflicting accounts of whether a 62-year-old man who lived there came outside at that point, or whether he emerged several moments later, after another volley of shots exploded inside the door.
* * *
"Blow the horn, tap the tambourine
Close the gap on the dark years in between"
— "Cassidy," by Barlow and Weir
In the wake of Cahill's death, saxophonist Karl Denson wrote on his official Facebook page that whatever happened, "I'm sure after knowing him for years, that it was a tragic mistake brought on by those dark forces in his nature."
Denson, who had planned to connect with Cahill in New Orleans, didn't elaborate, nor did he respond to requests for interviews.
But Young, Cahill's college friend and former Fort Collins housemate, offered an explanation, citing a trip Cahill made to the West Coast, following Phish on tour sometime in 1994. It was something he would often do with his wife and daughter in a Volkswagen van. This time Cahill was alone.
"He had some experience on 'shrooms — it might have been LSD, but I think it was mushrooms — that went terribly wrong," Young said.
"He fell off the face of the Earth, basically, and nobody knew where he was. His parents were looking for him. Nobody knew where he was. It could have been weeks before some cop in Washington or Oregon found him walking barefoot, somewhere in the Northwest. And he had just been doing goodness knows what, just wandering around in this trip gone bad."
Young added, "After that, he just was never the same again."
The general outline of the West Coast meltdown described by Young is confirmed by Cahill's sister, McCullough.
"As they say, a strange trip," she said. "My parents got a call he was on the West Coast. I don't know what he took. The police found him and put him on a plane back to New York. My parents made the arrangements. They picked him up at the airport; they brought him home."
McCullough, who said it was Washington where police found Cahill, denied there was a lasting personality change.
"It was a very upsetting time," she admitted, "but it was 20 years ago. But that wasn't the same person who had been with us the last two years. It wasn't even close."
The person McCullough saw in more recent years was a fully engaged and loving kid brother. She recalls how his vibrant energy helped fuel their annual family get-togethers at a rented vacation home on Long Beach Island, N.J. — his 40th birthday party there was an epic celebration, she said.
Similarly, he was a key participant in Thanksgivings at McCullough's Vermont vacation home, which could draw dozens, including the 12 Cahill grandchildren.
"Dark forces?" McCullough dismisses such a notion.
"Whatever happened, happened," she said, referring to her brother's misadventure of 1994. "But he was not a dark person."
* * *
"Quick beats in an icy heart, catch colt draws a coffin cart
There he goes and now here she starts, hear her cry"
— "Cassidy," by Barlow and Weir
"Bam bam bam," Davis said, recalling the sounds he heard even from around the corner, rising above the background din of music from the Fair Grounds.
Victoria Le, busy taking orders for po' boys and Louisiana crawfish by the pound at Broadview Seafood on North Broad Street during the midday rush, heard the barrage of gunfire from across the street and about a block to the north.
"I thought it was blown tires," she said. "And then there were people running."
But not long before that, Le recalled, "I saw a white man passing" the store. "He was walking shirtless."
An external surveillance camera at Broadview Seafood recorded Cahill's passing, a 10-second snippet recorded at 2:18 that Sunday afternoon. When detectives recovered those images, they confirmed that Cahill was bloody and shirtless.
Officers Hunt and Neveaux first confronted Cahill a block-and-a-half away, on Laharpe Street.
Before they could corral Cahill a second time, he was brought down by a stranger's gun. The officers stood just outside the North Broad Street residence with the homeowners, a barrage of gunfire having shattered the peace of a Sunday afternoon in festival season.
As they stood there, the couple's 29-year-old son emerged from the house. Officer Hunt asked who did the shooting.
"I did," the young man said.
Coming Monday: A Death in New Orleans, Part 2