Stockton rests easier after serial killings arrest

Crime

STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — Residents of Stockton, California, were able to rest easier following the weekend arrest of a man suspected of killing six men and wounding a woman in a series of shootings over a period of three months in Northern California, the city’s mayor said Sunday.

Mayor Kevin Lincoln said he shed tears of relief when he was informed that the suspect who police believe had terrorized Stockton since July was taken into custody around 2 a.m. Saturday.

This booking photo provided by the Stockton Police Department shows Wesley Brownlee, from Stockton, Calif., who was arrested Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in connection to a series of shootings. Brownlee, suspected of killing six men and wounding a woman in Northern California was arrested before dawn Saturday as he was apparently searching for another victim, police said. (Stockton Police Department via AP)

Wesley Brownlee was dressed in black, wore a mask around his neck, had a handgun and “was out hunting” for another possible victim when he was arrested while driving around the Central Valley city, where five of the shootings took place, Police Chief Stanley McFadden said at a Saturday news conference.

“The city was able to sleep a little bit better last night,” Lincoln said Sunday morning. “No resident of this city should have to walk around town looking over their shoulder in fear.”

The mayor credited residents of Stockton who called in hundreds of tips to investigators that eventually led to the arrest of the 43-year-old suspect.

It wasn’t immediately clear on Sunday whether Brownlee, of Stockton, had an attorney to speak on his behalf. He was expected to be arraigned Tuesday on murder charges.

“This person caused a lot of hurt, caused a lot of trauma,” Lincoln said. “My prayer, my hope, as mayor is that our community begins the process of healing as a result of the serial killings.”

Police had been searching for a man clad in black who was caught on video at several of the crime scenes in Stockton, where five men were ambushed and shot to death between July 8 and Sept. 27. Four were walking, and one was in a parked car.

Police believe the same person was responsible for killing a man 70 miles away in Oakland in April 2021 and wounding a homeless woman in Stockton a week later.

Investigators have said ballistics tests and video evidence linked the crimes. A police photo showed the black-and-gray weapon allegedly carried by the suspect. It appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun containing some nonmetallic materials.

At Saturday’s news conference, a moment of silence was held for the victims.

Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was killed in Oakland on April 10, 2021, and Natasha LaTour, 46, was shot in Stockton on April 16 of that year but survived. The five men killed in Stockton this year were Paul Yaw, 35, who died July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who died Aug. 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who died Sept. 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died Sept. 27.

Police said Brownlee has a criminal history and is believed to have also lived in several cities near Stockton, but they did not give further details.

After receiving hundreds of tips, investigators located and watched the place where Brownlee was living.

“Based on tips coming into the department and Stockton Crime Stoppers, we were able to zero in on a possible suspect,” McFadden said. “Our surveillance team followed this person while he was driving.”

Investigators watched his patterns and determined that he was out searching for another victim, the chief said.

“We are sure we stopped another killing,” he said.

McFadden added that Brownlee was detained after engaging in what appeared to be threatening behavior, including going to parks and dark places, stopping and looking around before driving on.

Investigators were still processing evidence and trying to identify a motive for the attacks, Officer Joseph Silva, a police spokesperson, said Sunday. Police said some victims were homeless, but not all. None were beaten or robbed, and the woman who survived said her attacker didn’t say anything.

The police chief thanked various local, state and federal agencies that took part in the investigation, including the FBI, U.S. Marshals and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Local investigators had also worked with police in Chicago to determine whether the killings might be linked to two 2018 murders in that city’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Authorities said videos of suspects showed a man in black with a distinctive walk.

However, Chicago police said Friday that there didn’t appear to be any link.

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