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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Guardian staff and agencies

California serial killer appears to be ‘on a mission’, as police link seven shootings

A pedestrian walks through downtown Stockton, California on February 7, 2020.
One of the victims was ‘out here at the wrong place, at the wrong time,’ according to his brother. Photograph: Nick Otto/AFP/Getty Images

A California serial killer seems to be “on a mission” dating back to last year, which has seen the fatal shooting of at least six men and the wounding of one woman – but authorities have not figured out what’s behind the violence.

Ballistics tests and some video evidence linked the shootings in Stockton and Oakland, about 70 miles apart in northern California, police said.

“We don’t know what the motive is. What we do believe is that it’s mission-oriented,” the Stockton police chief, Stanley McFadden, said on Tuesday. “This person’s on a mission.”

Although police would not say whether all seven shootings had been linked to the same gun, McFadden alluded to a single pistol during the news conference.

“I have absolutely no answer as to why that pistol went dormant for over 400 days,” between the April 2021 shootings and the first case this summer, the chief said.

Authorities last week announced that five men in the city of Stockton had been ambushed and shot to death alone in the dark in recent months. Late on Monday, police said two additional cases last year, a man’s death in Oakland and the non-fatal shooting of a woman in Stockton, had been tied to those killings.

A person of interest is being sought in connection with the bloodshed. They appear on video at several of the crime scenes but no evidence links them directly to the shootings, McFadden said. He said some of the victims were homeless and some were not.

There is a $125,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Police are fielding hundreds of tips daily, as well as submitting additional evidence in case other crimes in the state can be connected to the spate of shootings.

All of the fatal Stockton cases took place within a radius of a few square miles between 8 July and 27 September. None of the victims were robbed or beaten before the killings, and none appeared to have known one another, Silva said. The shootings also do not appear to be related to gangs or drugs.

In the other Stockton crime, a 46-year-old woman told investigators that she was inside her tent on 16 April 2021 at about 3.20am when she heard someone walking around outside.

“When she came out of her tent, she encountered someone holding a gun,” McFadden said.

The suspect fired multiple shots, wounding the woman, but she tried to defend herself by advancing toward her attacker, the chief said. The shooter lowered the gun.

“She said there were no words mentioned at all,” McFadden said.

The woman was also alone at the time

The shooting death of a man in Oakland around 4.15am on 10 April 2021, has also been connected to the violence in Stockton, police said. Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was shot multiple times, according to the Alameda county coroner’s bureau. It was not immediately clear whether the man was also unaccompanied when he was killed.

The city of Stockton, Stockton Crime Stoppers and a local construction company owner offered a total of $95,000 for information leading to an arrest.

Police released a grainy still image of a “person of interest”, dressed all in black and wearing a black cap, who appeared in videos from several of the homicide crime scenes in Stockton.

The San Joaquin county office of the medical examiner identified the Stockton victims on Monday as Paul Yaw, 35, who was killed on 8 July; Salvador Debudey Jr, 43, who died 11 August; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died 30 August; Juan Cruz, 52, who was killed 21 September; and Lawrence Lopez Sr, 54.

Lopez was shot shortly before 2am on 27 September in a residential area just north of downtown.

He “was just a person who was out here at the wrong place, at the wrong time, at the wrong circumstance,” his brother, Jerry Lopez, told KXTV-TV. “It’s hard to process that this has happened.”

There may even be multiple people involved in the violence.

“To be honest, we just don’t know,” Silva said. “This person or people who are out doing this, they are definitely very bold and brazen.”

Police said four of the Stockton homicide victims were walking alone and a fifth was in a parked car when they were killed in the evening or early morning in the city of 320,000 residents, about 50 miles (80km) south of the state capital, Sacramento.

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