Los Angeles police have launched a search for a killer suspected of fatally shooting three homeless people in separate incidents around the city, police officials announced Friday.
All three killings occurred in the early morning hours over a few days in November, Police Chief Michel Moore said. Officials issued an urgent call for homeless people to seek shelter if they can and avoid sleeping alone until a suspect is apprehended.
“This is a killer preying on the unhoused,” Mayor Karen Bass said.
The killings raised new alarms in Los Angeles’ homeless community, which a count completed earlier this year pegged at more than 46,000 people. The city has been struggling to provide housing to this population, which the count found increased 10% over the last year.
The count also found that 70% of the city’s homeless population is unsheltered, meaning they’re sleeping outdoors on any given night.
The first victim was shot about 3:10 am. on Sunday in an alley near the intersection of 110th Street and Vermont Avenue in South L.A., police said. The man, identified by police as Jose Bolanos, 37, was found dead with a gunshot wound.
The following day, Mark Diggs, 62, was shot and killed about 4:45 a.m. in the 600 block of Mateo Street. Moore said Diggs was pushing a shopping cart and had stopped to plug in his phone and was about to go to sleep when the assailant approached him and shot him.
The third shooting occurred on Wednesday at about 2:30 a.m. near the intersection of Avenue 18 and Pasadena Avenue in the Lincoln Heights area, where the body of a 52-year-old Latino man was discovered.
Police did not identify the victim, pending notification of his family.
Moore said in all three instances the victims were alone and out in the open.
“Each one was shot and killed as they slept” or were preparing to turn in for the night, Moore said.
The department has set up a task force of investigators that is working 24/7 to apprehend the killer.
The Los Angeles Police Department described the suspect as a man who was seen in a dark-colored sedan. It was not clear whether the man acted alone or if others may have been involved.
LAPD investigators have gathered some forensic evidence from the scene that suggests the incidents are connected, law enforcement sources told The Times. The agency has also collected video and physical evidence that links the same man to the three crimes.
Investigators are scouring for surveillance footage that will provide a license plate or telltale piece of evidence as to the killer’s identity, according to two sources not authorized to discuss the probe. The sources said the move to go public was to protect potential additional victims, but may make it harder to capture the suspect, as he is now aware that detectives have made a connection between the shootings.
In an effort to ramp up protective measures, the LAPD will deploy additional patrols in areas where unhoused people congregate and increase overtime to ensure they have eyes everywhere, officials said.
The shootings came as a shock to local residents.
Near the site of the second homicide, Michael Carey’s eyes grew wide Friday afternoon and he shook his head as he learned about the killing on Mateo Street.
“Shameless and horrible,” said Carey, who was walking his dog.
Carey said he was away for Thanksgiving and was surprised to hear about the shooting because the street is relatively quiet and peaceful.
“It’s sad and unfortunate,” he said of Diggs’ death.
Bass urged the city’s homeless residents not to sleep alone and to seek available services. She said homeless outreach workers have been informing those living on the street about the killings and the search for the killer.
“To the person responsible for this, I say this: We will find you, we will catch you and you will be held accountable.”
The LAPD’s community safety bulletin to unhoused residents offered several safety tips, including having a cellphone that is charged and in good working order, recording and reporting any suspicious activity to police and avoiding isolated areas, especially at night.
In an emergency phone call Friday afternoon with members of local homeless outreach programs, LAPD Deputy Chief Emada Tingirides urged advocates and coordinators to help get people off the streets, or at least get them to stay in groups, until the killer is caught.
“The message for the night is, ‘Do not sleep alone,’” she said.
Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said the organization is “horrified by these senseless acts of violence” and working with partners “to help as many of our unsheltered neighbors as possible sleep safely by making additional resources available and focusing outreach efforts on vulnerable individuals.”
“We urge our unsheltered neighbors to stay together, go inside to shelter, and if you are staying on the street tonight, please don’t sleep alone,” she said.
Mel Tillekeratne, executive director and co-founder of the Shower of Hope, expressed frustration that this was the second time in only a few years he was talking about serial violence against unhoused individuals.
In 2018, Houston resident Ramon Escobar cut a bloody swath through L.A. and Santa Monica, savagely beating seven homeless men with a baseball bat in a 17-day span. Four of the victims died and three others were seriously injured.
Escobar received multiple life sentences after entering guilty pleas last year to murder with special circumstances and attempted murder.
“Homelessness is so widespread that it is making it easier for these people to commit these crimes,” Tillekeratne said. “It’s not a coincidence that this is possibly two serial killers in a four-year span.”
Anyone with information on the suspect is urged to contact the LAPD’s Homicide Special Section at (213) 486-6890. Information can also be provided during non-business hours and weekends by calling (877) 527-3247.
“An assault on one of us is an assault on all of us,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said.