Local and federal authorities intensified their search on Monday for an alleged serial shooter accused of murdering at least two sleeping homeless men and wounding three others in a series of shootings in New York City and Washington D.C.
But while questions continue to swirl about the suspect connected to those crimes, experts canvassed by The Daily Beast believe the individual is a serial killer who could be on an escalating mission-style “odyssey” that will only be stopped by his apprehension.
“This killer is riding a wave of emotion for him right now, he is very unlikely to spot even with the ongoing investigation,” Dr. Scott Bonn, criminologist and author of the book “Why We Love Serial Killers,” told The Daily Beast on Monday. “In some ways, the publicity and multi-city investigation may feed his ego and drive him further. It depends on his emotional needs. But I would say it seems like he is escalating because the time-frame is getting shorter between killings. He is going to continue, and continue fairly quickly.”
During a joint Monday press conference in DC Monday evening where new photos of the shooter were released for the first time, Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged for the public’s help to identify the individual involved in the five shootings, noting that the reward for any information is now $70,000. Bowser also noted that officials are asking anyone experiencing homelessness in the two metropolitan cities to “seek shelter.”
“Homelessness should not be a homicide. This was a cold-blooded attack," Adams said. “We need help from the public. Somebody knows this person. We don’t want to lose another resident in this city, in New York, or anywhere else. This person is carrying out a premeditated attack of shooting innocent people.”
Police in New York and Washington D.C. say the chilling crimes began on March 3, when the Metropolitan Police Department responded to a 4 a.m. call about a homeless man who had sustained a non-life threatening gunshot wound. Five days later, on March 8, another individual was shot but not killed.
The next day, a similar attack proved fatal.
“The first two shooting attacks were non-fatal, but I think it was always this suspect's intention to kill people all along based on his victimology,” Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective sergeant who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, told The Daily Beast. “The similar MOs also point to the idea that this is a mission type serial-killer because it seems like this is someone who is trying to rid the world of something he deems a problem. In this case, we know he is targeting homeless individuals.”
Police say that on March 9, responders discovered a body inside a burning tent in D.C. After extinguishing the flames, investigators discovered that the person, formerly homeless, had both been shot and stabbed.
“From the information police have released, it seems like at some point after this March 9 incident, the suspect traveled to New York City, where he shot other homeless people,” Giacalone said. “Obviously, we don’t know yet if he shot anyone along his journey to New York, but investigators will also be looking into other major cities along the way, like Baltimore and Philadelphia.”
The first New York shooting was reported on March 12, when a 39-year-old man was shot while he was sleeping in Tribeca. NYPD Deputy Chief Hank Sautner said during a Saturday press conference that during the incident, the victim woke up when shot and asked, “What are you doing?,” prompting the suspect to flee. The victim, who was shot in the arm, was treated at a local hospital.
Shortly after the first attack, police say the alleged serial killer struck again in Chinatown—where he fatally shot a male inside his sleeping bag. The victim was found hours later, with gunshot wounds sustained to the head and neck.
But despite the sheer number of victims affected by this individual, authorities have given scant details about the intention of the crime, or any information about the individual other than surveillance footage that captures him clad in all black and approaching a man sleeping on the sidewalk. On Monday, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee II walked through the five shootings, stating that evidence shows “we have a depraved person that is targeting our unhoused residents.”
Contee added that D.C. connected the dots after the head of the department’s homicide unit saw images of a killing in NYC and realized it was the same individual as their investigation. He added that “the knot is tightening” on the suspect and both law enforcement agencies will find the suspect.
“We really need to get this case closed before anyone is hurt or murdered by this person. We don’t know this person’s mental health,” the DC chief added. “We don’t know if this person is homeless. We don’t know a lot of things.”
For Giacalone and Bonn, the lack of public information surrounding the investigation is not that unusual—past cases offer a glimpse into the motivations behind the mass killings.
Based on the sheer number of victims involved in the case, Bonn says he would classify this individual as a “spree killer” because unlike other serial killers who “have a cool-off period…this guy has shot five people in a little more than one week. He is not deescalating.”
“Serial killers are not one size fits all,” Bonn said. “Each in has a need, a fantasy need, that is filled by killing. Becase he is a spree killer, he also fits into the classifcation thrill killer—or someone who is motivated by the excitement of murder.”
Bonn, however, said that this individual is probably more likely a mission killer who is “riding society of what he views as a failure. He may also internally feel like a failure or a loser in society and is striking against those he believes embody his own short-comings. In this case, the victims may mean something to him so he is targeting them directly.”
Giacalone agreed with the mission-style killing analysis, noting that homelessness “has been at the forefront of the news in the last couple of months—specifically in NYC—so this guy may think he is doing something to benefit anyone.”
“Shooting homeless people—defenseless people who are sleeping—is also a sign,” the former NYPD detective added. “Also the fact that he was able to evade law enforcement in DC and travel to NYC is also a sign of how quickly this guy is moving and his possible knowledge that he is targeting individuals that police will not immediately find.”
He also added that authorities likely know more about the suspect than what they have released to the public—especially since he had to travel across state lines.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at Monday’s press conference that there has been a "seamless exchange" of information between her department and DC—as well as other neighboring police departments because the suspect is mobile. Contee also noted on Monday that authorities are unclear how the suspect was able to move around—or where he actually lives—but that he “has the capacity to move within cities.”
“There are hotel records, toll records. If I were on this investigation, I would be creating zones around the crime scenes and showing this suspect's picture to hotels and other local establishments to see if anyone knew anything. Cameras also play a huge role here and NYPD and DC are among the best to solve this case.”
Bonn, however, stressed that these investigators have to work quickly to apprehend the gunman—who he says is “on an odyssey that he probably can’t stop on this own.”
“He is jumping from one city to another as part of his killing odyssey,” the criminologist added. “We don’t know the emotional need that is being served by these killings, but we do know based on his killing pattern that he is on an emotional high right now and I think he is going to continue unless someone stops him.”