NEW YORK—A man wanted in a string of shootings targeting people experiencing homelessness in New York and Washington was arrested early Tuesday, authorities said, after tips from the community and collaborative police work.
At least five men were shot, two fatally, since March 3 in the series of random attacks, leaving the homeless community on edge as the suspect traveled between the two cities, opening fire on those living on sidewalks in sleeping bags and burning one person inside to try
The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington announced the arrest of Gerald Brevard, 30, during a news conference. He was arrested around 2:30 am after agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spotted him while canvassing the southeast area of the city.
DC Police said Brevard has an arrest history that includes assaulting an officer in Washington. Court records show Brevard was arrested in July 2018 on assault charges and later pleaded guilty to attempted assault with a deadly weapon. He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in June 2019.
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Records show Brevard was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility in DC A month later, he was deemed competent to stand trial. Soon after, records show, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison. That sentence, however, was suspended.
In 2018, Brevard was also enrolled for help in the city for behavioral health services, according to Barbara Bazron, director of Behavioral Health in DC
The Metropolitan Police Department said no motive had been established, and Chief Robert Contee said the attacks appeared to be random.
“We hope Brevard’s arrest provides a sense of closure for you but also relief to our vulnerable homeless population here in the District of Columbia,” Contee said. “This case is an example of what happens when there is good police work, science and community support.”
Contee noted that Monday, one day before the arrest, police didn’t have any idea who the suspect was. Within hours of releasing surveillance images, a tip from the community helped identify him. Police tracked his social media posts from him and saw he was in Washington, leading authorities to canvasses the city.
Brevard tried to flee when approached by ATF agents but was quickly detained, Contee said.
Brevard faces first-degree murder, assault with the attempt to kill and assault with a dangerous weapon, Contee said, with additional charges possible.
Investigators in the two cities began to suspect a link between the shootings on Sunday after a Metropolitan Police Department homicide captain, a former New York City resident, saw surveillance photos that had been released on Saturday night by the New York Police Department while scrolling through social average, Contee said.
The man in those photos looked similar to the person being sought by the MPD homicide captain’s own department. Contee credited the community and the coordination between the departments for the timely arrest, along with ballistic evidence examined by the ATF that confirmed the same weapon was used in all the shootings.
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The earliest known shooting happened at around 4 am March 3 in Washington, police said, when a man was wounded in the city’s northeast section. A second man was wounded on March 8, just before 1:30 am
At 3 am the next day, police and firefighters found one man dead inside a burning tent. He initially was thought to have suffered fatal burns, but an autopsy revealed he had died of multiple stab and gunshot wounds.
The shooting spree then shifted to New York City, police said. Surveillance video showed a man who investigators believe is Brevard at Penn Station in Manhattan around 3:30 am An hour later, a 38-year-old man sleeping on the street in Manhattan, not far from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, was shot in his right arm as he slept. The victim screamed, and the gunman fled, police said.
About 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man in SoHo, police said.
The man’s body was found in his sleeping bag just before 5 pm Saturday. He had been shot in the head and neck, said Julie Bolcer, a spokesperson for the New York City medical examiner’s office. The victim had lain in the street for hours before authorities were summoned.
Police believe Brevard returned to Washington, DC after the attacks in New York.
Though Brevard hasn’t been charged yet in the New York cases, police feel “very confident” they have identified the correct suspect, Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said.
But, he acknowledged, authorities have yet to discover the firearm used in the shootings. “It’s an important piece but we make cases everyday where we don’t have a firearm,” Contee added.
All of the shootings involved .22-caliber bullets, and surveillance photos and video, along with witness statements, all pointed to a single suspect – a man wearing distinctive sneakers, black pants and the same face mask, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig told reporters at a news conference.
Charlie Patterson, the ATF Washington Field Division special agent in charge, said in a statement that the agency’s ballistic information network was “particularly crucial in this investigation, allowing us to quickly match ballistic evidence connecting all five shootings to the same firearm.”
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness said the killings are a grim reminder of the vulnerability and stigmatization facing the homeless population on a daily basis.
In New York City, nearly 50,000 people experiencing homelessness were in shelters in December, according to New York’s Coalition for the Homeless. Last year, there were about 5,000 people experiencing homelessness in Washington, according to the nonprofit Community Partnership.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism