Washington, D.C., police and firefighters found the remains of a homeless man in a tent after a fire just before 3 a.m. on March 9. The death, however, was ruled a homicide. An autopsy revealed the man didn’t die as a result of the flames but rather from multiple gunshot and stab wounds.
Now, police in D.C. and New York City are searching for a suspect they believe to be responsible for the death—as well as four other shootings of sleeping homeless people over the past several weeks. The agencies are offering a $55,000 reward for anyone with information about the suspect, a bearded, bald man, according to photos released by D.C. police. In the NYPD’s photos, he’s wearing a ski mask.
The second fatal shooting, which is also the latest confirmed incident, took place sometime before 5 p.m. Saturday in Lower Manhattan. Police responded to a phone call about the discovery of a homeless man suffering from gunshot wounds to the head and neck and pronounced him dead at the scene. While the call was made in the evening, police say witnesses reportedly heard gunshots ringing out as early as 6 a.m. that day.
Both cities’ police departments are now investigating the crimes alongside the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agencies say the similar circumstances in each of the shootings as well as unspecified evidence recovered by investigators led them to believe one person committed all five violent crimes.
A joint statement from the mayors of New York City and D.C. asked homeless people in their respective cities to also seek shelter indoors as police continue to investigate. The rash of violence against the homeless also has Newark taking measures to protect its homeless population. The city’s Department of Public Safety announced Sunday that it will dispatch police and social workers to warn homeless residents about the attacks.
The first two incidents took place in the early morning hours of March 3 and March 8, in Washington’s northeast end, according to police. In both cases, officers responded to reports of gunshots ringing out and found homeless men with non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. Both victims were taken to local hospitals and survived their injuries.
On March 12, four days after the third attack in D.C., an unidentified 38-year-old homeless man in New York City was shot in the arm around 4:30 a.m., although he survived his injuries, according to police.
“Our homeless population is one of our most vulnerable and an individual praying on them as they sleep is an exceptionally heinous crime,” NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement released Sunday.
As homelessness has increased nationally over the last year, so have crimes against that community, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. And they’re often particularly horrific, like arson.
“Victims have died in unfathomable ways,” the report reads. “Not only have they been shot or stabbed to death but they have also been set on fire, drowned, or beheaded.”
In 2019, a 24-year-old man was arrested after he bludgeoned five homeless men with a rusty, three-foot metal bar. Four of the five men who were attacked died. Last year, a man was arrested after stabbing four homeless people on a New York City subway line over the course of a few days.
Correction 3/14 2:22 pm: The headline has been changed to clarify that the suspect shot five homeless men. Two died.
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