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NYC, D.C. mayors urge homeless residents to seek shelter after targeted shootings

Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III discusses preparations for the 2022 State of the Union address during a news conference, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in Washington.
Alex Brandon
Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III discusses preparations for the 2022 State of the Union address during a news conference, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in Washington.

Updated March 15, 2022 at 2:41 AM ET

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged homeless residents in their respective cities to find shelter Monday after a string of shootings in the cities left three people injured and two people dead.

Five men who are thought to be unsheltered were shot in separate incidents within a week and a half. One man was killed in each city, according to a statement released Sunday by MPD.

The New York Police Department, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department and the Washington Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced a joint investigation Sunday into the crimes. The departments say one person is likely responsible for the shootings in both cities.

"Our shelters have space, they are safe and we welcome you to stay in a shelter while we work on permanent housing for you," Bowser said in a joint press conference with Adams.

On March 12 in New York, a 38-year-old man was shot in the arm while sleeping at about 4:30 a.m. At 5 p.m. the same day, a different man was pronounced dead after being found with gunshot wounds to the head and neck, according to the statement.

"We don't want to lose another resident in this city, in New York or anywhere else," Adams said. "This person is carrying out a premeditative act of shooting innocent people."

Days earlier, three men were shot in Washington, D.C.

One man was shot March 3, and another shot March 8. Both victims in those incidences were shot in northeast D.C. and sent to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. On March 9, an officer saw a tent fire and later found a man dead inside, who was later identified as Morgan Holmes. The autopsy listed the cause of death as multiple stab and gunshot wounds.

In most instances, the men were shot while alone and in the early hours of the morning, said MPD Chief Robert J. Contee.

NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said when the department realized the shootings were connected, it took a three-prong approach: warning unhoused residents, seeing if they had previously encountered the suspect and checking to see if there were any victims who were unaccounted for.

"Those experiencing homelessness are suffering," she said. "They are people who face challenges every day just to survive."

Contee said officials feel confident the five victims are the only ones so far, but "anything is possible."

Some unhoused people told WNYC's Gwynne Hogan that they'd rather take their chances than stay in a shelter.

Bowser said MPD's police officers and homeless outreach workers would do their best to get those not wanting shelter into one.

"We think that there will be some that we'll have to continue to work with to get to accept shelter, but that's exactly what we're going to do," she said.

With New York being a "right-to-shelter"city, Adams said "anyone who wants shelter will get it," and shut down a question asking if the shootings could be a result of unsafe conditions following the city's order to remove unhoused people from subways.

Bowser similarly dissuaded the public from feeling like Washington is less safe because of the shootings.

"The fact that our MPD detectives were able to quickly link what they saw among our homeless residents, share that information with ATF and then connect it to New York City, relatively quickly,...tells us that our law enforcement officials are doing the job that we need them to do," she said.

Contee said the agencies have been unable to track down where the suspect lives, but that "this individual obviously has the capacity to move between cities." There is no current vehicle of interest.

"I am confident that we will find this individual, that we will bring this person to justice," Contee said. "And it will happen with great detective work. It will happen with scientific work that we have, and it will happen because of the help of the community. I am confident that this case will close."

The New York Police Department is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect. The MPD is offering up to $25,000, while ATF is offering another $20,000.

"Again, it is heartbreaking and tragic to know that in addition to all the dangers that unsheltered residents face, we now have a cold-blooded killer on the loose, but we are certain that we will get the suspect off the street and into police custody," Adams and Bowser said in a joint statement.

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Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]