The fatal shootings of six men in California have been linked to the use of ballistics tests and video, and police said during a news conference Tuesday that they are searching for a person of interest.
“We believe we could have a possible serial killer,” said Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden. “So 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 him to the shootings, McFadden said. Additionally, authorities do not know if there is one suspect or multiple.
McFadden said authorities are asking for the public’s help in locating 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 hat. McFadden noted the person’s uneven gait and upright posture.
Last week, authorities announced that five men in Stockton were killed 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 on August 30. Juan Cruz, 52, died on September 21. and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, died Sept. 27, the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office announced Monday.
The latest victim, Lopez, was shot just before 2 a.m. in a residential area north of downtown.
“He was just a person who was out here in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstance,” his brother, Jerry Lopez, told KXTV-TV. “It’s hard to process that this happened.”
Four of the victims were walking alone and the fifth was in a parked car when they were killed in the evening or early morning. None of the men were robbed or beaten before the killings, which all took place within a few square miles, and none appeared to know each other, Stockton Police Officer Joseph Silva said. The shootings also do not appear to be gang or drug related.
The shooting death of a man in Oakland around 4:15 a.m. on April 10, 2021, has also been linked to violence in Stockton, police said. Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was shot multiple times, according to the Alameda County Medical Examiner’s Office. It was not immediately clear if the man was also unaccompanied when he was killed.
During Tuesday’s news conference, McFadden said the only surviving victim, a black woman, was in her tent last year when she encountered someone with a gun. The suspect fired several times, but was able to defend himself. She described the suspect as being between 5’10” and 6 feet tall and wearing dark clothing, a dark face mask and a dark jacket. She said the suspect did not say anything to her.
Most of the victims were Hispanic men 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 believe is mission-oriented,” McFadden said Tuesday. “This person is on a mission.”
With a $25,000 donation from the ATF on Tuesday, the total reward for information leading to an arrest is $125,000, police said.
Stockton has a population of 320,000 and is located approximately 50 miles (80 km) south of the state capital, Sacramento.