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Less than 24 hours after news broke that a serial predator might be targeting some of Los Angeles' most vulnerable residents, police on Saturday announced the arrest of a suspect linked to the homicides of three homeless men across the city in the past week.
Jerrid Joseph Powell, 33, is accused of walking up to men in three different Los Angeles neighborhoods over a four-day span, killing each for no apparent reason, Police Chief Michel Moore said Saturday.
Moore described the killings as "senseless" and said footage of at least one homicide shows Powell acting borderline indifferent as he takes a man's life.
"It was chilling and I've been in this work for four-plus decades," Moore said of the Monday killing of Mark Diggs. "The cold-blooded manner in which he walks up and shoots this individual without any hesitation, no interactions."
Powell was arrested Wednesday night by Beverly Hills police after his car was linked to the Sunday killing of 42-year-old Nicholas Simbolon in San Dimas. Powell allegedly robbed Simbolon at his home and shot him in what authorities have termed a "follow home robbery." Simbolon, who worked for the L.A. County chief executive's office, is survived by his wife, his mother and two sons, officials said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said a 2024 BMW belonging to Powell was spotted at the scene of Simbolon's slaying, and Beverly Hills police spotted the car and arrested Powell after a traffic stop late Wednesday.
Moore said investigators linked the car to the killings of the homeless victims, though he didn't say how, and confirmed that a handgun recovered during Powell's arrest has been tied to all four shootings.
The announcement came less than 24 hours after city officials said that a killer was "preying on the unhoused" during a Friday news conference. Moore said each victim was shot as they slept or was about to lie down.
While Powell was already in custody before Friday's news conference, Moore said Saturday that investigators did not definitively connect him to the killings of the homeless victims until sometime "in the last 16 hours."
A motive remains unclear. Moore said it appeared that the gunman was attacking homeless people who were isolated from groups. None of the homeless victims appear to have been robbed. It also does not appear Powell knew Simbolon or the homeless men.
Powell has a lengthy criminal history, including felony convictions, according to Moore, who said police are looking for additional victims. Moore said investigators will try to reconstruct Powell's movements to see if he left "a path of destruction behind him that we have not yet determined."
Authorities said the first shooting happened at 3:10 a.m. on Sunday in South L.A., when 37-year-old Jose Bolanos was found dead in an alleyway near 110th Street and Vermont Avenue. Bolanos was sleeping on a couch when he was shot, Moore said.
Roughly 24 hours later, Diggs, 62, was shot in the 600 block of Mateo Street in the Arts District. Diggs was pushing a shopping cart and had stopped to plug in his phone, according to Moore, who said the victim was about to go to sleep when the assailant opened fire.
The third shooting occurred Wednesday around 2:30 a.m. near Avenue 18 and Pasadena Avenue in the Lincoln Heights area, where the body of a 52-year-old Latino man was discovered. Police have not released the man's identity yet, pending notification of his family.
The shootings came to light Friday hours before a gunman shot five homeless people beneath a Las Vegas freeway overpass, authorities said. One man died of his injuries and another was in critical condition. The other victims were listed as stable, police said. No one has been arrested in that case.
Murder charges are expected to be filed early next week, according to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón. He said prosecutors will consider filing special circumstances enhancements in the case. If that happens, Powell would face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The spasm of violence sparked immediate concern among the city's homeless populations and those who minister to people living on the city's streets. In an emergency meeting with outreach coordinators and service providers on Friday afternoon, LAPD officials asked advocates to urge people to either seek shelter space for the night or at least stay in groups until the killer was caught.
News of the suspect’s arrest on Saturday made Jose Fajardo, 64, feel more at ease.
“This is good news,” he said, smiling. “For those of us living outdoors, it gives us a sense of peace knowing he’s been caught.”
Fajardo was unaware of the killings until a Times reporter informed him about it Friday night. He lives in the Vermont Vista neighborhood, where the first homicide occurred six days ago.
The killings made him rethink scavenging for recyclables Saturday morning, since the slayings often took place during the early hours of the day. Instead, he slept in.
Not far from where Fajardo stayed, 41-year-old Eric Muñoz was sweeping trash outside of his RV. He said he was an acquaintance of Bolanos, the man killed near 110th and Vermont.
"He was cool and never got into arguments with people and would try to avoid conflicts,” Muñoz said. “He often spoke about his family, his daughter and how he wanted to get his life in order and return to them. I told him do it, just go and do it. ”
Hearing of the arrest Saturday afternoon, Muñoz nodded in approval.
“I’m glad they got the person,” he said. “Give him the chair.”
But the arrest did not make Muñoz feel any safer. He’s always on alert, and the killings made him worry that someone could easily attack him while he’s sweeping the area outside of his RV.
“I stay here with my girlfriend, they can also just get in the RV and do something,” he said, pointing to a side window of the vehicle. “Someone already broke a window, so you never know. I’m always on alert.”
In Little Tokyo, 46-year-old Amber Schoen had just returned to her tent after washing her clothes when her sister drove up and rushed toward her.
"She didn't say hi or anything, she just immediately said, 'I want you to know there's a serial killer on a mad rampage killing people who are sleeping on the ground,'" Schoen said. "She just wanted me to be careful."
Schoen was relieved to hear of the arrest, but said she knows she needs to remain vigilant sleeping on the street.
"You can't let the foot off the gas, so to speak," she said. "I try to stay in my tent at night and not go out."
Times staff writer Richard Winton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.