LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police are searching for a gunman who is believed to have killed three sleeping homeless people without provocation this week, prompting warnings for unhoused people not to sleep alone.
The same person is suspected to have fatally shot all three victims in separate attacks that occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, Police Chief Michel Moore said Friday.
“Our message to the unhoused community is clear: Do not sleep alone tonight,” Mayor Karen Bass said at a news conference. “Seek shelter, seek services, stay together.”
This image released by police shows a person suspected in the killings of three homeless people in Los Angeles.
LAPD All three victims are men. Two are Hispanic and one is Black. They were all sleeping in open areas, like alleys or sidewalks, Moore said.
“We believe a single individual approached each one, and shot and killed each one, as they slept,” he said.
A police task force has been formed, and homicide detectives were being pulled from all over the city, Moore said. It will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and there is a tip line for information, he said.
The first shooting occurred around 3 a.m. Sunday in a rear alley near 110th Street, police said. A 37-year-old man was fatally shot while he was on a couch in the alley.
On Monday around at 4:55 a.m. on East 7th Street, a 62-year-old man was shot near a rear wall. Moore said he had been pushing a shopping cart, leaned himself against a wall, and then a lone person approached and shot him.
On Wednesday at 2:30 a.m., a 52-year-old man was shot near an intersection, police said. He had been sleeping on a sidewalk, Moore said.
Vehicle sought by police in connection with the killings of three homeless people. LAPD Bass said multiple city departments, the public transportation agency Metro, and service providers were told to get the word out to homeless people and urge them not to be alone.
The city will be working to open emergency shelters that are normally used in weather events so that people on the streets have somewhere to go, she said. Outreach teams will also go looking for individuals who are homeless and on their own.
There are an estimated 46,260 people homeless in just the city of Los Angeles, according to the most recent figures released in June. Of that number, 32,680 were unsheltered. The numbers in Los Angeles County, which includes the city and other cities, were higher.
Bass also encouraged people with friends or family members who are homeless to reach out.
“We need you to contact them today. We need you to tell them about this danger,” she said.
Moore, the police chief, said they have spoken with the Los Angeles County sheriff, and the police chiefs of the Los Angeles-area cities of Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach, to see if there were any cases there.
No unsolved killings of people experiencing homelessness have been identified, but investigators are still looking to see if there were victims of shootings.
Investigators believe the suspect is an adult male who was seen wearing a hooded sweatshirt, Moore said. They think the same person is involved because of similarities in the three cases, he said. Police released an image of someone wearing a hooded sweatshirt and of a dark-colored sedan.
“The full force of the federal government,” including the FBI, Department of Justice and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are also working with police on the case, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said.
The killings happened in three different places in two large areas of the city, Moore said, which are not frequented by large numbers of people who are homeless.
“We’re cautioning that this individual who’s responsible, who we believe is responsible, could strike us in Hollywood, in the San Fernando Valley, on the West Side,” he said. “There is no framing of this.”
CORRECTION (Dec. 2, 2023, 3:28 a.m., ET): An earlier version of this article stated that the areas where the killings occurred were frequented by large numbers of people who are homeless. The areas are not frequented by large numbers of people who are homeless.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.