"Prayin' lady" tackles New Orleans crime

(CBS News) NEW ORLEANS, La. - The murder rate in New Orleans has shot up to ten times the national average. In the city where the saints go marching in, the streets are so dangerous people fear to tread outside.

One person not afraid to drive the streets at night is 76-year-old Millie Campbell. She's got a unique "vigilante" approach to stopping the rampant crime: praying.

Twice a week, Campbell and her friend Betty drive around the seediest areas in New Orleans while praying in her car. Although she's made more dents in her vehicle than in the crime stats, she told CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman that she feels that it's only a matter of time before her prayer method will make the city safer. She claims Jesus called her to do it.

While she won't get out of her vehicle -- "Jesus never told me to get out of my car" she said -- Campbell has no problem sharing her prayers with the community from behind her four doors.

Everyone in the neighborhood knows Campbell as the "prayin' lady," but most don't realize that she's part of a well-organized group that is using the power of prayer in risky areas.

Keith Campbell has organized groups of women into different neighborhood prayer patrol groups. "Your work is not in vain, " he told the participants. "It's not in vain."

"We live in a war zone, and you have to plan," Keith told CBS News. "And our major weapon is prayer, that's our atomic bomb."

Despite their efforts, crime still continues. A few miles away from where the group was meeting, another victim was murdered. While they sang songs, another victim laid in a pool of his own blood.

People don't mind Campbell's drive-by. Because murder has become common in New Orleans, any intervention -- whether it works or not -- is welcomed.

Campbell herself says she won't stop praying as long as her gas tank is full. She says she's full of the Lord, and her tank is nowhere near empty.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.