New Orleans cop who saved Lil Wayne’s life as a boy, dies aged 65 | US news

A former New Orleans police officer who essentially saved the life of rap superstar Lil Wayne after the artist shot himself in the chest as a boy has died, all but closing the book on an episode of music history that struck some fans as apocryphal until the ex-cop spoke out about it 13 years ago.

Robert Hoobler, 65, was found dead at his home in Jefferson Parish, a few miles west of New Orleans, on Friday, said the parish’s coroner, Dr Gerry Cvitanovich. Details about a cause or manner of death weren’t immediately available, though he was dealing with various health problems in his final years.

Hoobler’s path crossed that of the 12-year-old New Orleans child who grew up to become Lil Wayne on the afternoon of 11 November 1994. That day, the boy – then known as Dwayne Carter Jr – left school early because it was report card day, and went home to eat a fast-food hamburger when he saw a 9mm pistol in the master bedroom of his family’s apartment.

It had purportedly been left there the previous day by a friend of Carter’s family who had gone over to watch football on television, police said at the time. Carter ended up grabbing the gun, firing a bullet through his chest, calling 911 for help, and crawling to the front door to wait for help as he bled out.

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Hoobler was on his way to work an off-duty detail when he heard a dispatcher on his police radio say a boy with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in New Orleans’ Hollygrove neighborhood needed help. The officer took his cruiser to the apartment where Carter was, knocked on the door and eventually heard a faint voice answer: ‘Help me. I’ve been shot.’

Hoobler kicked the door down, found a boy in a bloodied T-shirt and jeans, and pleaded for dispatchers to send over an ambulance. There was none available, so Hoobler scooped the boy up and carried him to the back of a cruiser that a colleague of his drove to a hospital.

Years later, in a 2009 interview that was his first ever on that fateful day, Hoobler recalled how he spoke to the boy the entire trip to keep him awake. After what felt like hours, but in reality were just a few minutes, Hoobler and the other officer put the wounded child on a gurney outside a hospital that nurses and doctors wheeled away.

Hoobler never forgot what one of the nurses told him as the boy was taken to the emergency room: “If y’all had waited for [an ambulance], … he would have died.”

But the boy didn’t. Emergency room staffers saved his life. And he grew up to become the larger-than-life rapper Lil Wayne, who has sold more than 120m records across the world, has won five Grammy Awards and has become the chief executive officer of Young Money Entertainment, among a plethora of other accomplishments.

“I’m proud of what he’s done,” Hoobler said of Lil Wayne in his 2009 interview. “But I would’ve done the same for the guy no one ever heard about again.”

Over the years, Lil Wayne has made it clear he’d never forgotten Hoobler, the 6ft 7in cop whom he and others from his neighborhood nicknamed “Uncle Bob.” While accepting an award in 2018, the artist recounted having recently spoken to Hoobler and thanked the one-time officer for having “refused to let [him] die”.

At the height of the protests ignited by George Floyd’s murder in 2020 by Minneapolis police, Lil Wayne said Hoobler’s role in his life made it impossible for him to dismiss all law enforcement officers as capable of brutality.

“My life was saved by a white cop,” the artist said on an episode of his radio show. “So … you have to understand the way I view police.”

They reunited in private at least a few times over the years, and TMZ reported that the artist publicly claimed he offered to employ Hoobler as an administrator for his company. Lil Wayne also claimed he expressed a willingness to financially take care of Hoobler and his loved ones for life. But it did not appear that Hoobler ever took up Lil Wayne on his offer.

The story eternally linking Hoobler to Lil Wayne had its complications over the years.

Notably, more recent lyrics from Lil Wayne have suggested that his self-inflicted shooting in 1994 was in fact an attempt to die by suicide. That year was one of the most traumatic in New Orleans’ recent history, with the city reporting its highest ever number of homicides.

Meanwhile, Hoobler’s law enforcement career ended with his being fired in 2012 by the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office amid accusations that he hurled racial slurs at a man as he repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun during an arrest.

Prosecutors charged him with malfeasance, or carrying out his public duties unlawfully. He spent a year on probation after entering a type of plea in which he didn’t admit culpability but conceded that strong evidence against him would likely lead to his conviction at trial. He later received a pardon for the conviction because he was a first-time offender.

Hoobler got around late in life with the help of two prosthetic legs following a bad car accident. He often said in interviews that he dedicated most of his time away from the job to doting on his wife, Kathleen, who died last year, and their grandchildren.

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