Ballistics tests have now linked at least six fatal and one non-fatal shooting in California, authorities have said, all potentially at the hands of a serial killer.
Authorities are set to provide an update on the investigation into the killings on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities last week announced that five men in the city of Stockton, in northern California, 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.
“It definitely meets the definition of a serial killer,” said Stockton police officer Joseph Silva. “What makes this different is the shooter is just looking for an opportunity, and unfortunately our victims were alone in a dark area.”
Police have not said whether all seven shootings had been linked to the same gun.
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.
The other Stockton crime, in which a 46-year-old woman was shot but survived, occurred on 16 April 2021, around 3.20am, police 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 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.