NEW YORK (AP) — A gunman suspected of stalking homeless people asleep on the streets of New York City and Washington, D.C., killing at least two people and wounding three others, was arrested early Tuesday, police said.
Law enforcement arrested the man in Washington, and he was being interviewed, the Metropolitan Police Department said on Twitter.
Police in the two cities earlier released multiple surveillance photographs, including a closeup clearly showing the man’s face, and urged people who might know him to come forward.
“Additional information will be forthcoming,” said the statement on Twitter, which did not disclose the man’s identity. “Thanks to the community for all your tips.”
Advocates for the homeless were relieved by the arrest but urged officials in both cities, which have significant populations of people without permanent shelter, to provide more assistance.
“The urgency of helping people move in off the streets must remain, because this is only the latest example of the risks faced by people without housing,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City. “It’s not the first time that people have been the victims of violence or even homicides because of their housing status.”
The mayors of New York City and Washington had appealed to the public for help on Monday in the search for the gunman. Investigators acknowledged then, though, that they knew little about him or his motive.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, speaking together at a news conference on Monday, had urged anyone living on the streets to go to city shelters where they might be safer.
“We know that our unsheltered residents already face a lot of daily dangers, and it is unconscionable that anybody would target this vulnerable population,” Bowser said.
Adams said New York City police and homeless outreach teams would focus on finding unhoused people in the subways and other locations to urge them to seek refuge at city-owned shelters.
In Washington, city outreach workers passed out flyers among the homeless population, urging people to “be vigilant” and featuring multiple pictures of the suspect.
Investigators in the two cities began to suspect a link between the shootings on Sunday after a Metropolitan Police Department homicide captain, a former New York City resident, saw surveillance photos that had been released on Saturday night by the New York Police Department while scrolling through social media.
The man in those photos looked similar to the one being sought by the MPD homicide captain’s own department.
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee credited the quick coordination between the departments, saying that without that officer making the connection, “It could have been months” before the link between the attacks was discovered.
The earliest known shooting happened at around 4 a.m. on March 3 in Washington, police said, when a man was wounded in the city’s Northeast section. A second man was wounded on March 8, just before 1:30 a.m.
At 3 a.m. the next day, police and firefighters found a dead man inside a burning tent. He initially was thought to have suffered fatal burns, but a subsequent autopsy revealed that he had died of multiple stab and gunshot wounds.
The killer then traveled north to New York City, police said.
At 4:30 a.m. on 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.
About 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man in SoHo, police said.
“He looked around,” Adams said. “He made sure no one was there. And he intentionally took the life of an innocent person.”
The man’s body was found in his sleeping bag just before 5 p.m. Saturday. He had been shot in the head and neck, said Julie Bolcer, a spokesperson for the New York City medical examiner’s office. He has not been officially identified, but he was known among others who live out on the streets, Bolcer said.
The victim lay in the street for hours before authorities were summoned.
“We don’t know at this point who this is whether or not they might have family who might might claim their body,” said James Winans, the chief executive officer of the Bowery Mission, which takes in scores of the city’s homeless every night and is located just blocks from where the man’s body was recovered.
Kess Abraham, who became homeless last month, said he was “pained” to learn of “a guy who lived on the streets who probably was minding his own business getting murdered for no reason.”
“Any one of us who’s homeless could have went to that same situation,” Abraham said.
The latest 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. That assailant, who also was homeless, is awaiting trial.
New York City’s mayor has been criticized by some anti-poverty advocates for his plan to remove homeless people from the city’s subway system by deploying police and mental health workers to keep people from sleeping in trains or stations.
Adams, on Monday, defended the policy, saying it was designed to protect both commuters and homeless residents.
“There is nothing dignified,” he said, “about allowing people to sleep on subway platforms.”
Khalil reported from Washington, D.C.