The man currently terrorizing residents of Phoenix missed his marks on July 11. That's when the murder suspect, who police believe is light-skinned and lanky, shot at a stopped car carrying a 21-year-old man and a four-year-old toddler. Although neither sustained injury, they were apparently subjects of the ninth attack perpetrated by a maniac local investigators are increasingly desperate to reign in.
The so-called street serial shooter is just the latest in a dense roster of repeat killers to terrorize the sweltering desert city. And while cops don't think a serial killer has been on the loose there in years, the question of what makes the place so inviting to them is an open one.
"We do seem to have had our share," Sergeant Jonathan Howard and spokesperson with the Phoenix Police Department told VICE. "I guess we would have to ask if our investigators recognize more and other locations have them but don't connect the dots like we do, or if we're just unfortunate."
The current serial killer is thought to have carried out his first attack in March, when a 16-year-old boy was shot but not killed while walking down the street. The next day, a 21-year-old man sustained a not life threatening gunshot wound of his own while standing outside his car. On April 1, the suspect committed his first murder when 21-year-old Diego Verdugo-Sanchez was shot dead. A 55-year-old woman was then shot and killed on April 19, and a 32-year-old man met the same fate on June 3. A week later, a 19-year-old man named Manuel Castro Garcia was shot and killed outside of his home.
Police began taking the serial-killer theory seriously around the time Angela Linner, Stefanie Ellis, and her 12-year-old daughter, Maleah, were shot up while listening to music in their car on June 12. Linner and the girl died almost immediately, and the elder Ellis, who was shot 14 times, went into a coma before passing away in the hospital.
That tragedy fit an emerging pattern––the killer often seems to strike people after dark who are either in cars or standing outside their own homes.
"He's targeting people that are out—seemingly by themselves, no other witnesses," Phoenix police homicide lieutenant Ed DeCastro told the Arizona Republic. "At this point, we have no connection to any of the victims. So it does seem random."
Sergeant Howard told me the phrase "serial street shooter" is what local officials have been using in press conference because the suspect has committed crimes other than murder. But the cop added that he doesn't dispute use of the phrase "serial killer" as it's been tossed around in local and national press.
The victims so far have been either black or Latino, although investigators say there's no reason to suspect a racial motive at this time, as they haven't been able to determine the suspect's ethnicity with a high degree of confidence. A majority of the shootings have also taken place in the primarily Latino southwest portion of Phoenix, as the New York Times reported, with four taking place inside the working-class enclave known as Maryvale.
To complicate things further, witness accounts suggest the shooter has sped off in multiple cars, which begs the question of whether a group of people might be behind the shootings—or at least playing some peripheral role. According to the Times, some locals have taken to speculating that the killer might work as a mechanic, or a valet, or in some other profession that would give him access to cars.
An increasingly desperate Phoenix PD is offering $50,000 [€45 000] for any information that leads to an arrest, up from a previous offer of $30,000 [€27,000].
It's also worth at least probing whether this killer was behind a series of 11 shootings that took place alongside Interstate 10 in August and September of last year. No one died in those attacks, and the one suspect in that case, Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., had the charges against him dropped in April. In May, a man known as the Beeline Highway Shooter also allegedly shot up seven cars; a suspect in those incidents is currently being held without bond.
The last time the Arizona city faced off with a full-fledged serial killer, at least three were active at the same time. Between May 2005 and August 2006, two men shot at an estimated 36 people, and one, Dale Hausner, was eventually convicted of six murders. He committed suicide in prison in 2013, and his accomplice who cooperated with investigators, Samuel Dieteman, is still serving life behind bars.
Then there was Mark Goudeau, the so-called Baseline Killer, who operated between August 2005 and June 2006. He committed a string of rapes, robberies, and murders before being apprehended and sentenced to death.
As the search for the current serial killer continues, residents of Phoenix's Maryvale neighborhood say shootings of all kinds have become increasingly commonplace—with no end in sight.
"All the kids used to come and play all night," one emotional resident told the Arizona Republic. "No more."
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