The fatal shootings of six men in California have been linked using ballistics tests and video footage, and police said during a Tuesday press conference that they are looking for a person of interest.
"We do believe we could have a potential serial killer," Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said. "That's how we're going to treat it as such."
The person of interest appears on video at several of the crime scenes — but no evidence directly links them to the shootings, McFadden said. Additionally, authorities do not know whether there is one suspect or multiple.
McFadden said authorities are asking for the public's assistance identifying the person of interest. He then played a short clip from a security camera, which showed a person dressed in black and wearing a black cap. McFadden pointed out the person's uneven stride and upright posture.
Last week, authorities announced that five men in Stockton had been slain in recent months, ambushed and shot to death alone in the dark. Paul Yaw, 35, was killed on July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, died Aug. 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, died Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, died Sept. 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, died Sept. 27, the San Joaquin County Medical Examiner's office said Monday.
The latest victim, Lopez, was shot shortly before 2 a.m. 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."
Four of the victims were walking alone and a fifth was in a parked car when they were killed in the evening or early morning. None of the men was robbed or beaten before the killings, which all took place within a radius of a few square miles, and none appeared to have known one another, Stockton Police officer Joseph Silva said. The shootings also do not appear to be related to gangs or drugs.
The shooting death of a man in Oakland around 4:15 a.m. April 10, 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.
During Tuesday's press conference, McFadden said the sole surviving victim, a Black female, was in her tent last year when she encountered someone holding a gun. The suspect fired multiple shots, but she was able to defend herself. She described the suspect as being between 5'10" and 6 feet tall and wearing all dark clothing, a dark face mask and a dark jacket. She said the suspect didn't say anything to her.
Most of the victims were Hispanic males, and their average age was 42, according to McFadden. He said some of the victims were homeless and some were not.
"We don't know what the motive is. What we do believe is that it's mission-oriented," McFadden said Tuesday. "This person's on a mission."
With a $25,000 donation from the ATF on Tuesday, the total reward for information leading to an arrest is up to $125,000, police said.
Stockton is home to 320,000 residents, and is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the state capital, Sacramento.
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