Metropolitan Police in Washington, DC have arrested a man wanted in connection with the shootings of homeless men in the United States capital and New York City, officials said on Tuesday.
Two men were killed and three wounded in the shootings that took place over the past 10 days, with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and her New York counterpart Eric Adams calling the alleged perpetrator a “cold-blooded killer”.
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Police from both cities had posted surveillance photos of the suspect and offered a $55,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. And the mayors appealed to the public for help in the search for the gunman.
The suspect, identified by law enforcement as 30-year-old Gerald Brevard, was being interviewed by police earlier on Tuesday, Metropolitan Police said in a tweet. Authorities had said they were seeking a lone gunman linked by forensic evidence to the shooting of five homeless men in the two cities.
Brevard lives in the Washington area and has a criminal history that includes a prior arrest for assault, an official told The Associated Press. Brevard was in custody Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, the AP said.
The first shooting took place in the early hours of March 3 in northeast Washington. The victim was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to officials.
A second homeless man was shot and wounded five days later, also in northeast Washington, police said. He also suffered non-life-threatening wounds.
The next day, a homeless man was found dead in northeast Washington with stab and gunshot wounds, police said. His tent, where he had been living, had caught fire.
On March 12, a 38-year-old man was shot in the arm in New York City’s Lower Manhattan during the night, police said.
About a half-hour later, police found the lifeless body of another man in a sleeping bag in the same neighbourhood. He had been shot in the head and neck.
Investigators in the two cities began to suspect a link between the shootings after a Metropolitan Police homicide captain – a former resident of New York City – saw surveillance photos released by New York police on social media.
DC Police Chief Robert Contee credited quick coordination between departments, saying that without the officer making a connection, “it could have been months” before the link between attacks was discovered.
On Monday as the manhunt was under way, both Adams and Bowser had urged anyone living on the streets to go to city shelters where they might be safer.
“We know that our unsheltered residents already face a lot of daily dangers, and it is unconscionable that anybody would target this vulnerable population,” Bowser said.
Adams said New York City police and homeless outreach teams would focus on finding unhoused people in the subways and other locations to urge them to seek refuge at city-owned shelters.
About 45,000 people stay each night in homeless shelters in New York City, with thousands more sleeping on the street. The city’s homeless population is about 80,000 according to US government data compiled by the charity Bowery Mission.
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.
Adams, on Monday, defended the policy, saying it was designed to protect the safety of both commuters and homeless residents.
“There is nothing dignified about allowing people to sleep on subway platforms,” he said.
In January, a homeless man with mental health problems shoved a woman in front of an oncoming subway train in Manhattan, killing her. The attack had left New York City commuters on edge.