San Diego police: ‘All hands in’ to solve homeless killings
San Diego police are trying to identify a man they’re calling a “person of interest” in connection with a series of grisly attacks on the California city’s homeless population.
Two homeless men have been killed — one set on fire, the other beaten to death — and a third beating victim is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, authorities said. Those attacks occurred in a 25-hour period from early Sunday to Monday.
A fourth attack occurred around 5 a.m. Wednesday across from the federal courthouse downtown. Police and the fire department responded to a 911 call and found a man ablaze on the ground, officials said. The unidentified man is hospitalized in critical condition.
Detectives have surveillance video from a convenience store of a man they want to question about the attacks. Capt. Dave Nisleit of the homicide unit said the homeless killings and attacks are a top priority for the entire department.
He asked for the public’s help in identifying the man from the store video.
“We have all hands in,” Nisleit said Wednesday. Whoever is responsible for the attacks “is a person we need removed from the community as fast as we can.”
Nisleit said a burning towel was found on the latest victim. Witnesses saw a man crouched over the victim and described what they initially thought were burning clothes.
On Sunday morning, witnesses reported seeing a man on fire running down the train tracks alongside Interstate 5, according to CNN affiliate KSWB. Police later found the badly charred body of a male.
At about the same time, witnesses reported seeing another man in his late 40s to early 50s darting across the freeway away from the train tracks carrying a gas can, said Lt. Manny Del Toro with the San Diego Police.
Two similarly brutal attacks took place early Monday morning, when officers found two more victims with several trauma injuries, one who later died, police say.
“We’re absolutely convinced these attacks are linked,” Nisleit said. “We’re working through all these cases again.”
All the attacks appear to be “senseless, random attacks on the homeless,” he said. He encouraged the homeless population to sleep and walk in groups and noted that the attacks have been unnerving for the city.
“It is extremely unsettling for the public, it is extremely unsettling for the homeless population and it is extremely unsettling for the San Diego Police Department,” Nisleit said.
This isn’t the first time San Diego County has seen violence targeting the homeless and transient populations. Earlier this year, two brothers and a female teenager were accused of fatally beating a homeless man in El Cajon after one of the brothers allegedly got into a fight with some other homeless people in the area.