'Urgent' manhunt underway to find suspect in shootings of 5 homeless men in New York City and DC

The NYPD released photos of the person they believed targeted homeless men in two shootings March 12.

By Artemis Moshtaghian, Liam Reilly, Susannah Cullinane and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) -- Five shootings targeting homeless men in New York City and Washington, DC, over the past two weeks were carried out by a single suspect who is now the subject of an "urgent" manhunt, officials said Sunday.

The shootings took place between March 3 and March 12 and left two men dead, the New York Police Department and Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said in a joint statement. Each shooting happened in the middle of the night and targeted men experiencing homelessness, authorities said.

Three of the shootings were last week in Washington, followed by two more in New York this weekend.

The NYPD and MPD cited similar circumstances and characteristics in each attack, although they did not release specific details. Speaking to Bloomberg on Monday, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said a ballistics match helped law enforcement connect the shootings.

The agencies are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the investigation and have offered a combined $55,000 for information leading to the arrest of the suspect.

Officials released new images of the suspect wanted in connection to the shootings and called on the public to help identify and locate him.

"We know that this is a scary situation," Bowser said at a news conference Monday evening. "We know that our unsheltered residents already face a lot of daily dangers and it is unconscionable that anybody would target this vulnerable population."

As officials work to locate the suspect, Bowser asked any unsheltered residents in New York City or Washington, DC, seek shelter at this time.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell joined Bowser at the press conference in Washington, DC.

"He intentionally took the life of an innocent person," Adams said. "He must be brought to justice."

The mayors of both cities issued a joint statement Sunday saying there was a "cold-blooded killer on the loose." Agencies also released surveillance photos and video of the suspect.

"Our homeless population is one of our most vulnerable and an individual preying on them as they sleep is an exceptionally heinous crime," said NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. "We will use every tool, every technique and every partner to bring the killer to justice."

The NYPD directed its members to do wellness checks on people who appear homeless, according to a memo obtained by CNN sent on Sunday. Police were instructed to show individuals a flyer with the photo of a man police want to talk to in connection with the shootings.

The attacks in New York come about a month after Adams unveiled a plan to increase safety and address homelessness on the subway system. The suspects in several recent high-profile subway attacks were described as homeless, including in the death of Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed in front of a train in January.

Still, homeless people have long been at a higher risk of experiencing violence than the general population. In a 2014 study by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, researchers interviewed 516 homeless adults and about half reported that they had been the victim of an attack.

Such violence against the homeless has continued in recent years. In 2019, four homeless men were killed and a fifth was seriously injured in Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood when a fellow homeless man struck their heads with a metal object as they slept, police said at the time.

In a statement, the group Coalition for the Homeless linked the mayor's move to clear out subways to the violence.

"Despite the headlines, homeless New Yorkers are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators," the group said in a statement Sunday. "Saturday's tragedy is an urgent reminder that many unsheltered New Yorkers choose to bed down in the subways because that is where they feel the most safe in the absence of housing and low-barrier shelters."

A timeline of the shootings

The first shooting happened around 4 a.m. on March 3 in the 1100 block of New York Avenue Northeast, the MPD said in an earlier statement Sunday. Officers responded to a call of shots fired and found a man suffering from apparent gunshot wounds. He was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, the statement said.

The second shooting was reported around 1:21 a.m. on March 8 in the 1700 block of H Street Northeast, MPD said. Officers found another man suffering from apparent gunshot wounds and he was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Then, around 2:54 a.m. on March 9, an MPD member noticed a fire in the 400 block of New York Avenue Northeast and a man's remains were discovered after the flames were extinguished. The cause of death was determined to be multiple stab and gunshot wounds, police said.

The fourth and fifth shootings occurred in New York City early Saturday when the suspect opened fire on two apparently homeless people who were sleeping on the street, killing one and wounding the other, the NYPD said.

The shootings happened about 90 minutes apart in Lower Manhattan and were caught on surveillance cameras, the department said. The NYPD described what the videos showed but did not release them to CNN.

One video shows a man who appeared to be homeless sleeping near the corner of King Street and Varick when an unknown suspect approached and shot him in his forearm, NYPD Deputy Chief Commanding Officer Henry Sautner said during a news conference Saturday. The man woke up and shouted, "What are you doing?" at the shooter, who then ran away, Sautner added.

Police were called to the scene around 4:30 a.m. Saturday and the 38-year-old victim was taken to a hospital for treatment.

In addition, investigators became aware of a second shooting outside 148 Lafayette Street on Saturday. There, officers found a man in a sleeping bag with gunshot wounds to his head and neck, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, Sautner said. Surveillance video shows a suspect approaching the sleeping victim around 6:00 a.m. and discharging a weapon, Sautner said.

Mayor Adams described the surveillance videos of the two New York shootings as "chilling."

"This individual approached the two men, one at a time, you see him looking around, making sure no one was around, kicking the homeless person to make sure they were not asleep and just assassinated him," Adams said Sunday. "It was just something you would not imagine would take place in our city."

Shootings are 'heinous crimes,' mayors say

In their joint statement Sunday, Mayors Adams and Bowser called the shootings "heinous crimes" and called on residents to report any information that could help the investigation.

"The work to get this individual off our streets before he hurts or murders another individual is urgent. The rise in gun violence has shaken all of us and it is particularly horrible to know that someone is out there deliberately doing harm to an already vulnerable population," they said.

The mayors also called on residents who are homeless to seek shelter.

"It is heartbreaking and tragic to know that in addition to all the dangers that unsheltered residents face, we now have a cold-blooded killer on the loose, but we are certain that we will get the suspect off the street and into police custody," they said.

The shootings come as the NYPD grapples with upticks across every major crime category in the city. Major crimes spiked nearly 60% in February compared to the same month in 2021, police data showed.

New York City recorded a 41% increase in overall major crime through the first months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, including a nearly 54% increase in robberies, a 56% increase in grand larceny incidents and a 22% increase in rape reports, the data shows.

Murders increased by 10%, while citywide shooting incidents decreased by 1.3%, with 77 incidents in February 2021 and 76 incidents last month, NYPD data shows.

City officials are working to get homeless individuals into shelters, Adams said Sunday.

"We're also mobilizing on the streets to notify our homeless to try and get them in shelters, those who want to do so," Adams said. "Being homeless should not turn into a homicide and I want to catch this guy bad."

Adams unveiled his 'Blueprint to End Gun Violence' in January, which includes long-term goals to grow economic opportunities, improve child education and provide more access to mental health resources while addressing the gun crisis.

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