Los Angeles officials say they think one person has targeted unhoused people after three back-to-back slayings. Although the mayor, police chief and district attorney stopped short of calling the suspect a serial killer, all of the victims were killed by someone who walked up to them during pre-dawn hours as they were sleeping, shot them and walked away.
“These are some of the most vulnerable people in our community and are being singled out – it appears to be – because of their status,” George Gascón, the Los Angeles county district attorney, said during a press conference on Friday.
The first homicide happened around 3am on 26 November in south-east Los Angeles, where 37-year-old Jose Palanos was shot and killed as he laid on a couch in an alley. About 24 hours later, around 5am on 27 November, 62-year-old Mark Diggs pulled his shopping cart over on a sidewalk near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles to charge his phone and get some rest when he too was shot and killed. Then on Wednesday a third man, whom police have not yet publicly identified, was killed by a gunshot in east Los Angeles. Each man was alone when he was shot, said the Los Angeles police chief, Michael Moore, on Friday.
Moore added that there is no known motive for the three homicides and that LAPD have opened a tip line to aid in the investigation.
In the wake of these killings, mayor Karen Bass is imploring the 46,000 unhoused people to avoid being alone at night and to find shelter at a motel or one of five recently opened winter shelters. She is also asking people who have a loved one or friend living on the streets to get in touch with them and inform them of the shootings.
“This news is devastating to our city,” Bass said at the news conference. “Living in the streets is dangerous, and four to five people die in our streets from a range of causes and violence is certainly one of them.”
Despite widespread misperceptions that unhoused people are responsible for the majority of big-city crime, research shows that they are more likely to be victims of assault, robbery and homicide than people who are housed. In 2022, unhoused people made up 24% of the city’s homicide victims despite making up just 1% of the population, according to an NBC 4 Los Angeles investigation. And four of the seven people killed in a string of homicides in Stockton in 2022 were unhoused at the time, reported KCRA, Sacramento’s NBC affiliate.
“Someone may have heard an individual express hatred or their anger toward people experiencing homelessness and dehumanizing them,” Moore said. “We don’t know what the motive is but the targets were three individuals sleeping alone, houseless.”