By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Updated 9:39 PM ET, Mon April 18, 2016
New Orleans (CNN) It begins with a simple fender bender. Two SUVs speed off. Three blocks away, the drivers exit and argue. Within seconds, shots are fired, and ex-NFLer Will Smith lies dead in the street.
Welcome to New Orleans.
To the world, the Big Easy is a place to cut loose, rich in culture, music and cuisine. A city that lives its motto, "Laissez les bon temps rouler," and draws up to 9.8 million tourists a year.
But peel back that glittery exterior and you find a place that's broken and violent in many ways -- a place where deaths such as that of a favorite New Orleans Saint don't terribly surprise anyone.
"For all its love of life, it also seems to lack a respect for life," said Father Bill Terry of St. Anna's Episcopal Church. Outside his church hangs a white plastic board that lists the names and ages of all those murdered -- an eerie monument to the city's fallen residents.
To be sure, this has been a better year than most so far. The city has had 34 murders, which is actually on track for the lowest murder rate in decades.
But it was only five years ago New Orleans held the dubious title of Murder City, and weary residents will tell you a sudden surge never feels far away.
Terry has some theories why. Most New Orleans residents do.
"The story here is not so much about Will Smith," Terry said. "The story is about violent reactions and behavior that's so beyond the pale of reason and sanity."