As gunman targets homeless, mayors urge all to seek shelter

NEW YORK (AP) — The mayors of New York and Washington DC called on the public for help Monday in an urgent search for a gunman who was stalking sleeping homeless people on their streets, killing at least two people and injuring three more in less than two weeks.

Police in both cities released several surveillance photographs, including a close-up clearly showing the man’s face, and urged people who may know him to come forward.

“Our reach is very broad and we’re picking you up,” Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee said at a news conference in Washington, speaking directly to the shooter.

Investigators, however, have acknowledged that they still know little about the alleged killer or his motive.

Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, speaking together at the press conference, urged anyone living on the streets to go to the city’s shelters where they could be more secure.

“We know that our unprotected residents already face many daily dangers and it is unconscionable for anyone to target this vulnerable population,” Bowser said.

Adams said NYPD and homeless outreach teams will focus on finding homeless people in subways and other locations to encourage them to seek shelter in city-owned shelters.

In Washington, city outreach workers were distributing flyers among the homeless population, urging people to “be vigilant” and featuring several photos of the suspect.

The latest violence has underscored the urgency of getting homeless people off the streets and into safe housing, said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York.

“The reason these people were attacked was that they didn’t have the security of permanent accommodation,” she said. “And that’s why we really need to use these tragedies as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure that people have a better option than the streets where they are exposed to both the elements and the people who might want them. to hurt. “

Investigators in both cities began to suspect a connection between the shootings on Sunday after a Metropolitan Police Department homicide captain – a former New York resident – ​​saw surveillance photos released Saturday night by the NYPD as he was browsing social media.

The man in these photos looked like the one wanted by his own department.

DC Police Chief Robert Contee credited the quick coordination between departments, saying that without this officer making the connection, ‘it could have taken months,’ before the link between the attacks was uncovered. .

The first known shooting occurred around 4 a.m. on March 3 in Washington DC, police said, when a man was shot and injured in the northeast section of the city. A second man was injured on March 8, shortly before 1:30 a.m.

At 3 a.m. the next day, March 9, police and firefighters found a dead man inside a burning tent. He was initially thought to have suffered fatal burns, but a subsequent autopsy revealed the man had died of multiple stab wounds and gunshot wounds.

The killer then traveled to upstate New York, police said.

At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, a 38-year-old man sleeping rough in Manhattan near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel was shot in the right arm as he slept.

The victim screamed and the shooter fled, police said.

About 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man on Lafayette Street in SoHo, police said.

“He looked around. He made sure no one was there. And he intentionally took the life of an innocent person,” Adams said.

The man’s body was found in his sleeping bag shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday.

“Any of us who are homeless could have ended up in the same situation,” said Kess Abraham, who fell into homelessness last month.

After finding refuge in parks and other places in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Abraham tried to find help at the Bowery Mission, which houses hundreds of homeless people in its facilities across the city.

He said he was “pained” to hear that “a guy who was living on the street and probably minding his own business was being murdered for no reason”.

Joel Castillo, a 24-year-old struggling with homelessness who was also at the mission’s downtown facility, said more should be done to keep townspeople safe, homeless or no.

“I don’t know if it’s a police issue, but given the circumstances, the police should actually step in and do a bit more. I’m not saying they aren’t already doing enough,” said he said, “but what I’m saying is that there should be a lot more steps taken to ensure the safety of the city’s ratepayers.”

James Winans, the mission’s chief executive, said it was “very disturbing” that one of the killings happened a few blocks from the organization’s emergency shelter.

The latest attacks reminded beat the death of four homeless men as they slept on the streets of New York’s Chinatown in the fall of 2019. Another homeless man, Randy Santos, 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 on the subway. This attacker, who was also homeless, is awaiting trial.

New York City’s mayor has come under fire from some anti-poverty advocates for his plan to remove the homeless from the city’s subway system by deploying police and mental health workers to keep people awake in trains or stations.

Adams on Monday defended the policy, saying it was designed to protect the safety of commuters and homeless residents.

“There is nothing dignified about allowing people to sleep on subway platforms,” he said.

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Khalil reported from Washington, D.C.

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