Stockton Serial Killings: Brazen Execution Outside Popeye’s Leaves Family ‘Numb’

Debudey Family/Stockton PD/Lopez Family
Debudey Family/Stockton PD/Lopez Family

STOCKTON, California—Salvador Debudey Jr. was just trying to find some dinner when he was shot dead on the streets of Stockton, California by a suspected serial killer.

The murder occurred on Aug. 11, a short distance from a flower shop owned by Debudey’s uncle. Debudey, an aspiring musician and artist who was known to friends and family as Sal, had stopped by just the day before to say hello, William Debudey recalled.

“He was getting a bite to eat when it happened,” he told The Daily Beast at his store on Wednesday. “He was at a chicken stand… and the guy pulled out a gun and shot him… You could imagine—your nephew comes and says hi to you, next thing you know, he’s dead.”

Responding officers found Debudey’s body in the parking lot of a Popeye’s shortly before 10 p.m. The 43-year-old was buried in an Oakland Raiders jersey, said William, who provided the funeral flowers: red roses for love and white lilies for peace.

“The day that we found out that something happened to him, was from a person off the street who said, ‘Hey man, we think your nephew got killed,’” William continued. “And I said, ‘I just seen him yesterday.’”

According to William, his older brother, Salvador Sr., called around 2:30 a.m., and said, “It was him.” William walked the streets to try and make sense of it all. He hasn’t found any answers since.

“Who does that? What [kind of] monster does that?” William went on. “I’m hoping that you know, whatever happens, let God deal with him. Whether he may kill him, or put him away in prison. I believe, in my heart, no family should ever have to deal with this.”

Debudey was the second person to die in a string of five seemingly random—but apparently related—recent deadly shootings in Stockton that have set the community on edge. The first victim, 35-year-old Paul Yaw, was ambushed and killed on July 8. Debudey came next, followed by Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died on Aug. 30, Juan Cruz, 52, who died on Sept. 21, and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died on Sept. 27.

Police now believe, based on, among other things, ballistics results, that the same person or persons were behind two other shootings last year, one of them fatal. The victim who died, 39-year-old Juan Vasquez Serrano, was killed in Oakland, some 70 miles from Stockton, on April 10, 2021. The other, a 46-year-old homeless woman in Stockton who has not been publicly identified, was shot outside her tent in the early morning hours of April 16, 2021 but survived.

“We don’t know what the motive is,” Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said Tuesday. “What we do believe is that it’s mission-oriented. This person’s on a mission.”

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Officer Joseph Silva, a spokesman for the Stockton PD, told The Daily Beast that it “doesn’t appear that there have been any robbery attempts.” And while there is currently only a single person of interest, “We still don’t know if it’s just one, or two, or multiple suspects,” he said.

Each of the victims, save the lone survivor in Stockton, have been men alone at night, according to police. Some of them were homeless, most were Latino. Investigators released surveillance video of a person of interest, who has been spotted on security footage at more than one of the crime scenes. The subject, a man standing between 5’10” and 6’ tall, was wearing black clothing, a black cap, and a black facemask. He walks with what McFadden described as an “uneven stride,” that cops hope will help someone identify him. A $125,000 reward has been posted for any information leading to an arrest in the case.

It has only been a month or so since Debudey’s family buried him, “so we’re still grieving,” William said. “Sal was [my older brother’s] first child. So that’s what makes it extra hard for us… He was a loving nephew. None of us are perfect, we all have a little something. But I can tell you, he had a beautiful heart. If he had a dollar and you needed it, he’d give it to you.”

Debudey, a Stockton native, left behind a wife and a child, his uncle explained. Although he worked for William on occasion, Debudey bounced around between part-time jobs and had no permanent address in recent years, he said, fighting back tears. When he did come by, which was fairly often, William put him to work sweeping floors, unloading trucks, and putting cut stems in the cooler.

Before COVID hit, Debudey landed a gig at a Trader Joe’s warehouse in the area, according to William. But Debudey came down with the virus, and by the time he recovered, the work had dried up and he was laid off.

Then, the unthinkable.

“It’s unreal. I still feel a little numb, because I can see him coming through my glass door and saying, ‘Hey uncle, how you doing?’” said William. “I don’t know if you have nephews that you see day to day, but it’s love. It’s family. That’s what it comes down to.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Salvador Debudey Jr.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Debudey Family</div>

Salvador Debudey Jr.

Courtesy of Debudey Family

William said his customers “are nervous,” and that many have become too afraid to go out at night. He now closes his shop a half-hour early because he doesn’t want any of his employees to be next. As for himself, William said he keeps a gun at work and wouldn’t hesitate to defend himself. However, he conceded, “I hope to God I never have to use it, because I’m not that type of person.”

A fundraiser started by the family has so far generated a little more than $1,000 of its $15,000 goal.

Less than three miles away from where Debudey died is where 54-year-old Lorenzo Lopez was killed on Sept. 27.

A father of six children between the ages of 15 and 38, Lopez had lived in Stockton for 25 years, his brother Jerry told The Daily Beast. He worked construction and was an up-and-coming rapper, with Jerry producing his tracks.

Jerry, whose family is afraid for their safety and wants to stay out of the public eye as much as possible, said his brother’s music portrayed “what he seen through his eyes in these streets of Stockton.”

Lopez performed under the name “UNKN8,” and was part of a group called Tha Dose.

In one photo Jerry shared with The Daily Beast, Lopez can be seen on the Hollywood Walk of Fame flashing the victory sign atop Frank Sinatra’s star.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy of Lopez Family</div>
Courtesy of Lopez Family

A makeshift memorial has been set up at the scene of Lopez’s murder, where mourners have left flowers, religious-themed candles, CDs, and a pair of empty Corona bottles to honor him.

Jerry said the police told their family that they have collected further evidence which has not yet been made public, and that he remains cautiously optimistic the culprit (or culprits) will be captured.

“They’re getting close to this guy,” he said on Wednesday. “I can feel it.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">The Daily Beast</div>
The Daily Beast

Not far from there, is where Juan Cruz, 52, was shot and killed on Sept. 21. On Wednesday, a memorial for him featured a couple dozen candles, a large plastic bottle of Gatorade, and a bag of Doritos.

Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and former commander of the Bronx Cold Case Squad, said he gives Stanley McFadden, the Stockton police chief, “credit for being as transparent as he has been and calling it what it is—serial killings.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">The Daily Beast</div>
The Daily Beast

“However, I hope he understands the can of worms he opened, too,” said Giacalone, who is now a professor at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The media pressure is now going to be immense. Rarely, if ever, do police chiefs utter those words. They’ll talk about ‘patterns,’ or other terminology that won’t alarm the public too much.”

Investigators have a number of tools now at their disposal in addition to hoping for a tip that solves it, according to Giacalone, who said police “always have to look to see if cases are connected to other cases, and they don’t have to be homicides.”

“There’s a lot of things that they can do,” he said. “But sometimes you’re better off being lucky than good… The game is afoot, and now that the words ‘serial killer’ have been said, and the body count is getting up there, the incidents are happening closer than they were before. So, there is a smaller cooling-off period, which is of great concern. He’s getting bolder in his attacks, even with the media and police presence that’s out there.”

To William Debudey, the capture of his nephew’s killer can’t come soon enough.

“It’s on the news all day long here, so I really believe they’re trying to do their best to catch this person,” he said, adding. “I feel for the other people when I look at their families. I mean, how many more people have to die?”

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