Chula Vista man Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, held over two murders and a string of violent assaults, say police
San Diego police have arrested a suspect in the string of homicides and violent attacks against homeless people apparently ending a dramatic manhunt that took place amid fears of a serial killer on the loose.
At a Thursday night press conference police officials announced that the department had apprehended Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, and there was probable cause he had over the last week murdered two homeless people and violently assaulted two others.
Police Captain David Nisleit declined to comment on the possible motives of Padgett, who is from Chula Vista, a neighboring southern California city.
The attacks began on 2 July when the body of Angelo de Nardo, 53, was found on fire between a local freeway and train tracks.
Police said the autopsy revealed that De Nardo, a homeless man who had family in Pennsylvania, suffered extensive trauma to his upper torso and died before his body was set alight.
The next day, just before 5am, police responded to calls for another homeless man who was also suffering from trauma to his torso and was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. Police later identified him as Manuel Mason, 61.
An hour later police found a third homeless man, Shawn Longley, 41, also bleeding from his upper torso. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
On Wednesday a fourth homeless man was burned and gravely injured while sleeping on a downtown walkway.
The gruesome assaults launched the largest local manhunt in recent memory, with officers handing out flyers, knocking on doors, patrolling streets and staking out bus and trolley stops from Little Italy to Barrio Logan. Because no witness saw the suspect with a car, detectives suspected he might be using public transportation.
At an earlier press conference Nisleit declined to use the term serial killer, which is defined as three or more related homicides, but said the brutal attacks were connected. This is a series of homicides being carried out by one person.
Anxiety and suspicion hung over the city as news of the attacks spread. If it sounds like a maniac is on the loose in San Diego, so be it: a maniac is on the loose in San Diego, read a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial.
On Thursday Nisleit offered few details about Padgett and declined to discuss any criminal history. The suspect, who was arrested on Thursday morning in Chula Vista, would face multiple charges of homicide and attempted murder, the captain said.
It was unclear whether Padgett was also suspected of a series of separate attacks against sleeping homeless people in June. Nisleit said investigations were continuing. We still have a lot of work to be done.
Since 21 June seven homeless men in different parts of the city had been beaten by an attacker in the middle of the night while they were sleeping, Lieutenant Martha Sainz told the Guardian this week.
The attacks have shone a harsh light on a city that markets itself as a business-friendly tourist mecca.
Once considered a backwater to Los Angeles, San Diego has acquired a hip reputation for sleek condos, technological innovation, gastronomy, arts and mega-events, notably Comic-Con, the annual pop culture jamboree, which starts on 21 July. Last year 34.2 million visitors spent a record $9.9bn.
Yet amid the boom, the number of unsheltered homeless people in the county has surged to 5,000.
Downtown gentrification hiked rents, culled low-income accommodation and pushed many homeless residents to the edge of freeways. Even there they were unwelcome. In April city crews, at a cost of $57,000, installed jagged rocks below freeway overpasses to deter people from sleeping there.
Instead of coming up with innovations they came up with pest control, Jeeni Criscenzo, head of the homeless advocacy nonprofit Amikas, told reporters at the time.
Recent initiatives and spending commitments showed authorities were belatedly responding to the homeless crisis, said Michael McConnell, another homeless advocate. Were behind the curve. Were starting to change and move in the right direction, but very slowly.