Authorities in California’s Central Valley are investigating what they believe is a series of murders that have left six people dead since last year.
Stockton police are offering a $125,000 reward for any information about the killing, which began in April 2021 and was reported late last month, officials said.
Seven people were shot and one survived. They were alone in the evening or early morning when they were attacked, police said.
Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said there is ballistic evidence linking the attacks, but he did not clarify what the evidence is.
“By definition, these shootings are a series of murders, so if we believe we may have a potential serial killer, we’re going to treat it as such,” the chief said.
Now, police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a person of interest whose image was captured on surveillance video.
“Please don’t be a victim, stay alert, keep your head on a swivel, stay where it’s on, communicate,” McFadden said. “We need you, we need your help, we need your advice and we need to help you stop spreading misinformation.”
The first in the string of killings is believed to have occurred in the early morning hours of April 10, 2021, when a 40-year-old Hispanic man was shot and killed in Oakland, California, Stockton Police said in a statement Monday night.
Then, on April 16, 2021, a 46-year-old black woman was shot in Stockton and survived her injuries.
The other shootings happened between July and September this year, officials said. Among those killed this year were four Hispanic men between the ages of 21 and 54, and the fifth was a 35-year-old white man, police said.
On Monday, the San Joaquin County Medical Examiner identified this year’s homicide victims as: Paul Yaw, 35, killed July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, was killed on August 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, was killed on August 30; Juan Cruz, 52, was killed on September 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, was killed on September 27.
While investigators continue to look into the case, they are stressing that they are not sure if the murders were committed by one person or several, McFadden said.
“At this point, we don’t know if it’s a person or a person. As I’ve said before, we have absolutely no evidence linking any person or persons to any of these events,” McFadden said.
He stated that the murders were not related to the robberies.
“They’re not talking about gang activity in the area or anything,” McFadden said. “It’s just the element of surprise.”
In addition to the ballistic evidence linking the chain of shootings, the circumstances of each attack also show some similarities.
Seven of the shootings happened in dark areas where there weren’t many cameras. The victims “were alone, often caught by surprise, or perhaps relaxing in a vehicle or walking alone in near-darkness,” McFadden told CNN’s Kasie Hunt on Tuesday.
Additionally, police believe the alleged shooter or shooters may have made themselves known during daylight hours before attacking at night, according to McFadden.
“We believe that perhaps this individual, or individuals, may be scouting their area in broad daylight to anticipate where the cameras might be and what would be the best approach,” McFadden said.
The female survivor described the suspect as between 5’10” and 6′ tall and said he was wearing dark clothing and a dark Covid-style mask, according to McFadden.
Stockton Police released surveillance video Tuesday showing what they say is a “person of interest” in the murders. The video does not show anyone committing a crime on camera, police said.
McFadden said the person in the video shows a precise, uneven stride and an upright posture, which police can identify when video surveillance is recovered.
At this point in the investigation, authorities have not identified a motive for the killings. They said, however, that the attacker or attackers appeared to be “mission-motivated” and that there was no evidence at this time to indicate that the killings were hate crimes.
It is also unclear whether the suspect or suspects targeted the victims, authorities said.
CNN law enforcement analyst John Miller noted that the gap in time between the shootings means the killer “might be mature and a little impatient.”
“Given past cases and the characteristics of the offender, it’s likely that he goes on the ‘hunt’ much more often than he kills,” Miller said.
“The ‘hunt’ is likely to strike regularly and when everything is fine: a single victim, no witnesses in the immediate vicinity, possibly an area with no video coverage.”