Natasha LaTour was homeless, dealing with a decades-long drug addiction, when she found herself face-to-face with a silent stranger pointing a gun at her by the Stockton train tracks.
Ms LaTour was 46 at the time on 16 April 2021 – when she became the only known survivor of an alleged serial killer in the California port city.
Six days beforehand, a 40-year-old man had been shot dead in Oakland with the same gun; ballistics have also linked five more murders in Stockton beginning in July of this year to the 2021 attacks, police said this week.
Now sober, employed, married and happy, Ms LaTour described her attack in detail to local outlet 209 Times. She could hear a train coming around two or three in the morning, she said, but also heard another sound and turned around to see a figure coming towards her around a corner – with a gun.
On 15 October police said a suspect had been arrested. The 43-year-old man was arrested in the area of Village Green Drive and Winslow Way in the early hours of the morning. Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said the man was “out looking to kill, he was hunting”.
“There was no words exchanged,” Ms Latour told 209 Times, adding that the attacker “didn’t say anything, didn’t come any closer, just started shooting.”
She said she believes the attacker was a male, though she could not see the shooter’s face.
“He had on dark-coloured pants – not black – dark-coloured pants,” she said. “I don’t know if they were jeans ... he had an open hoodie that was either navy blue or black, and he had a COVID mask on that was worn, like, perfectly – and it went across the bridge of his nose.
“I didn’t see the hair part, and so the top part of the hood was ... fitted,” she said, comparing his look to “the Unabomber ... without the glasses.”
She said it looked like the attacker had thrown clothes on to “do something real quick.”
Initially, Ms LaTour said, the shooter held the gun sideways and palm downward “like a thug – and I was really hoping his aim was going to be off.”
Then, she said, he crouched to closer to her height of 5’6” – she reckons the shooter was between 5’10” and six foot – “like a movie star pose,” with both hands training the gun on her.
She was shot up to 10 times; she’s not sure, but the hospital told her seven bullets were removed from her body, she told 209 Times.
She spent 12 days in the hospital, during which she was withdrawing from drugs in addition to recovering from her significant wounds. She has been sober since 1 May 2021, she said.
The following month, Ms LaTour says she was told by police that ballistics had matched her assault to the murder of a 40-year-old Hispanic man on 10 April just after 4am.
When it came to her own attack, she said: “I always knew that there was nothing personal, because I didn’t do anything to anybody. I didn’t have an altercation ... I don’t roll like that and have any problems.”
It wasn’t until this month, however, that she heard there might be a serial killer on the loose in Stockton – and noticed similarities in the circumstances. She not only obtained a new copy of her police report to show to 209 Times but also told the outlet she believed there was video from the night she was shot that she has not yet been shown.
The first public announcement of a possible serial killer came on 30 September, when Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden held a press conference regarding the murders of five men beginning in July 2022 which police believed were linked due to ballistics and similar circumstances.
The victims were ambushed, none were robbed, and all were shot dead in dimly lit areas under darkness.
Paul Alexander Yaw, 35, was found fatally wounded on 8 July at a park in north Stockton. On 11 August, Salvador William Debudey Jr, 43, was shot dead in a parking lot along a commercial stretch with strip malls and fast-food joints. Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, was killed 19 days later; on 21 September, yet another man out alone at night, 52-year-old Juan Cruz, was shot dead at 4.27am.
Six days later, 52-year-old Lorenzo Lopez was found dead on the sidewalk of a primarily residential area.
Earlier this month, police said two April 2021 crimes had also been linked to this summer’s murders by ballistics – including the assault on Ms LaTour.
All but one of the murder victims was Hispanic; Mr Yaw was white. Ms LaTour, however, think she could have fit the profile of a Hispanic male when she was attacked.
“I could easily be mistaken for a Mexican man at nighttime,” said Ms LaTour, who is Black with a light complexion. “I have been before.”
Police released seconds-long footage of a dark-clad “person of interest” who was captured on video near the scenes of several shootings; the individual has an uneven gait and unusually straight posture.
“When I saw the image of the person from the back, even though I never seen their face, [I knew] that that was the person that tried to kill me,” Ms LaTour said.
A reward of $125,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the string of killings.
She told 209 Times that she was angry the public had not been informed earlier of linked crimes – and believes there could be more victims out there.
“They didn’t warn the public,” she said of officials, adding: “Basically, five people died because [officials] didn’t listen to me.”
She said she felt unheard by police because of her homelessness and drug addiction.
“They basically treated me as it if was a drug deal gone bad – as if I knew something ... that I wasn’t sharing,” she said.
Because of that, she said, it’s possible others had fallen victim to the same attacker or attackers unbeknownst to investigators.
“If you were in a situation to where ... you’ve been homeless here in Stockton, and you got hurt, you got shot, you know, I’m saying ... I think you should come forward,” she said.
She added: “ no doubt that there’s somebody that’s been, you know, shot and either thought that because [of] their lifestyle that they deserved it ... or knew that the police weren’t going to do anything; they could have heard about me.”
She said she came forward to hopefully prevent more deaths.
“Let’s face it: There’s a serial killer out there,” she said, “And I’m not dead ... so I had to pray on that.
“But I knew that it has to be told,” she says.
Incredibly, Ms Latour said she forgives her attacker and hopes the person or persons will turn themselves in – and hopefully find the same solace in religion as she has. On the night she was shot, she heard her late grandmothers’ voices urging her to survive, she said – and found strength in Jesus.
Ms LaTour has even found a unique way of looking at her near-death experience, 18 months after being riddled with bullets while homeless and still in the throes of addiction.
“They may, in a strange kind of way, they saved my life,” she told 209 Times. “You know, they were trying to destroy me but they saved my life.”
Neither Ms LaTour nor the Stockton Police Department immediately returned requests for comment from The Independent.