US police have arrested a suspected gunman who has been stalking homeless men asleep on the streets of New York City and Washington DC, killing at least two people and wounding three others in less than two weeks.
Law enforcement arrested the suspect in Washington DC, and he is being interviewed by officers, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said on Twitter.
The man later was identified by officials as 30-year-old Gerald Brevard.
The suspect, who lives in the Washington area, has a criminal history that includes an assault arrest, authorities said.
Police in the two cities earlier released multiple surveillance photographs, including a close-up snapshot clearly showing the suspect’s face, and urged people who might know him to come forward.
The mayors of Washington DC and New York City credited the swift coordination between the two city police departments and the US federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
It was ATF agents who took Brevard into custody before handing him over to the MPD, according to the ATF’s Twitter feed.
“We said that the work to remove this man from our streets was urgent, and our communities responded,” Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser said in a joint statement with New York City mayor Eric Adams.
“We know that this experience has been especially scary for our residents experiencing homelessness. Our work continues to end homelessness and ensure all residents have access to safe and affordable housing.”
She added: “We know that our unsheltered residents already face a lot of daily dangers and it is unconscionable that anybody would target this vulnerable population.”
Mr Adams said: “This man targeted those experiencing homelessness with no regard for life, but this criminal is now off the streets.
“Gun violence against anyone, let alone our most vulnerable populations, is sick, but thanks to the coordination between different levels of law enforcement and the public’s help, those experiencing homelessness can breathe a sigh of relief today.”
Advocates for the homeless found comfort in the arrest, but urged officials in both cities, which have significant populations of people without permanent shelter, to provide more assistance.
“The urgency of helping people move in off the streets must remain, because this is only the latest example of the risks faced by people without housing,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City.
“It’s not the first time that people have been the victims of violence or even homicides because of their housing status.”
Investigators in the two cities began to suspect a link between the shootings on Sunday after an MPD homicide captain – and a former New York City resident – saw surveillance photos that had been released on Saturday night by the New York Police Department while scrolling through social media.
The man in those photos looked similar to the one being sought by the MPD homicide captain’s own department.
DC police chief Robert Contee credited the coordination between the departments, saying that without that officer making the connection “it could have been months” before the link between the attacks was discovered.
The earliest known shooting happened at around 4am on March 3 in Washington, police said, when a man was wounded in the city’s north-east section. A second man was wounded on March 8, just before 1.30am.
At 3am the next day, police and firefighters found a dead man inside a burning tent. He was initially thought to have suffered fatal burns, but tests revealed he had died of multiple stab and gunshot wounds.
The killer then travelled north to New York City, police said.
At 4.30am on Saturday, a 38-year-old man sleeping on the street in Manhattan not far from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel was shot in his right arm as he slept.
The victim screamed, and the gunman fled, police said.
About 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man in SoHo, police said.
“He looked around,” Mr Adams said. “He made sure no-one was there. And he intentionally took the life of an innocent person.”
The latest attacks were reminiscent of the beating deaths of four homeless men as they slept on the streets in New York’s Chinatown in the autumn of 2019. Another homeless man, Randy Santos, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges over those attacks.
A year ago, four people were stabbed in New York City, two fatally, by a man who randomly attacked homeless people in the subway system. The suspected assailant, who also was homeless, is awaiting trial.
New York City’s mayor has been criticised by some anti-poverty advocates for his plan to remove homeless people from the city’s subway system by deploying police and mental health workers to keep people from sleeping in trains or stations.
Mr Adams defended the policy, saying it was designed to protect both commuters and homeless residents.
“There is nothing dignified,” he said, “about allowing people to sleep on subway platforms.”