Police were conducting a sprawling manhunt on Monday for a gunman suspected of carrying out a series of “cold-blooded” shootings of homeless men on the streets of Washington, DC and New York City.
The string of attacks, which took place in the middle of the night over a period of 10 days this month, has left two men dead and three wounded.
Police released surveillance photographs of the suspected gunman late Sunday, including one in which the hooded man can be seen holding a pistol in a blue glove.
The killer’s motive — if any — was unknown and authorities turned their attention Monday to trying to offer what protections they could to homeless people who might become targets.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said police officers and homeless outreach teams would focus on finding unhoused people in the subways and other locations and would urge them to seek refuge at city-owned shelters.
“The case is a clear and horrific intentional act of taking the life of someone, it appears, because he was homeless,” Adams said at a news conference late Sunday. “Two individuals were shot while sleeping on the streets, not committing a crime but sleeping on the streets.”
“The work to get this individual off our streets before he hurts or murders another individual is urgent,” Adams and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a joint statement.
“It is heartbreaking and tragic to know that in addition to all the dangers that unsheltered residents face, we now have a cold-blooded killer on the loose, but we are certain that we will get the suspect off the street and into police custody,” they said.
Police said the first shooting took place around 4am (08:00 GMT) on March 3 in northeast Washington. The victim was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
A second homeless man was shot and wounded five days later, also in northeast Washington, police said. He also suffered non-life-threatening wounds.
The next day, a homeless man was found dead in northeast Washington with stab and gunshot wounds, police said. His tent had been set on fire.
The killer then apparently travelled north to New York City, police said.
At 4:30am (08:30 GMT) Saturday, a 38-year-old man sleeping on the street in Manhattan not far from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel was shot in his right arm as he slept.
The victim screamed and the gunman fled, police said.
“He’s alive today because he woke up after he heard the first gunshot and started yelling,” Adams told reporters.
About 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man on Lafayette Street in the downtown SoHo neighbourhood, police said. The man’s body was found in his sleeping bag just before 5pm (21:00 GMT) Saturday.
Police determined the same person committed the attacks based on the similarities of each shooting and evidence recovered from the scenes. The victims were attacked without provocation, police said.
“We are committed to sharing every investigative path, clue and piece of evidence with our law enforcement partners to bring this investigation to a swift conclusion and the individual behind these vicious crimes to justice,” Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee of Washington, DC said in a news release.
Washington police offered a reward of $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest.
The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) offered an additional $20,000 reward while New York put up $10,000.
The attacks were reminiscent of the beating deaths of four homeless men as they slept on the streets in New York’s Chinatown in the fall of 2019. Another homeless man, Randy Santos, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in those attacks.
A year ago, four people were stabbed in New York City, two fatally, by a man who randomly attacked homeless people in the subway system. The alleged assailant, who was also homeless, is awaiting trial.