Three teenagers are being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, suspected by local police in as many as 50 attacks on homeless people, including beating two men to death over the weekend in what experts say is a growing type of assault against an especially vulnerable group.
Alex Rios, 18, and two boys, ages 16 and 15, were being held in Bernalillo County detention facilities on Monday, after allegedly killing two sleeping men in an open field in an attack so violent it left the victims unrecognizable and sickened some investigators, police spokesman Simon Drobik told the Los Angeles Times. A third man, who helped identify the trio, said he was able to escape.
FOR THE RECORD
July 22, 8:18 a.m.: An earlier version of the story stated that there were 78 fatal attacks on homeless people in 2012. The correct number is 88.
Rios is facing two murder charges and a variety of other charges. The juveniles are expected to be tried as adults and will face comparable charges, Drobik said. The Times does not identify juveniles unless they are charged as adults.
According to a criminal complaint in the case, the teens said they wanted to look for someone to beat up and possibly rob. One teen told authorities the other was "very angry" over a breakup with his longtime girlfriend.
According to the complaint, one of the teens described in graphic detail how the trio had left a party and "decided to go out and look for someone to beat up." Two of them "repeatedly beat the two male subjects with their hands and feet as well as some bricks and wooden sticks" in an attack that lasted for 20 minutes. "After the attack all three of them returned home and he went to sleep," said the teen who told authorities "afterwards he looked at himself in the mirror and 'saw the devil.' "
"I personally, after reading that complaint, was sick to my stomach because of the nature of the violence and the age of the offenders," Drobik said.
"They are unrecognizable," Drobik said of the victims. "My question is: Who failed these kids? How did it get to this point? It was so violent. I was sick to my stomach. Homicide detectives had a hard time dealing with it."
There has been a growing pattern of violence against the homeless in the past 15 years, according to Michael Stoops, a community organizer for the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. Stoops is the lead author of the group's report, "Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Crimes & Violence Committed Against Homeless People in 2013."
According to Stoops, in the 15 years beginning in 1999, there were 1,437 attacks against homeless people resulting in 375 deaths. In 2012, there were 88 attacks and in 2013 there were 109, according to Stoops. In each year, there were 18 deaths. There were about 30% more nonlethal attacks in 2013 than in 2012, he said.
California leads the nation with the most attacks, 33, he said. He also cautioned that all of the numbers are likely to be low because the homeless are reluctant to come forward.
New Mexico had no reported attacks in 2013 and just eight incidents in the 15-year period, Stoops said.
Police in New Mexico said they will investigate the claim that the trio was involved in as many as 50 attacks on the homeless.
"We are trying to verify that number," Drobik said. "We are trying to reach out to the community but all too often the homeless population doesn't want to talk about violence perpetrated against them. I believe there were 50 other people somehow battered. They were boasting and it seems to be a pattern. Now we have a duty to find those 50 people."
According to the complaint, police responded about 8 a.m. on Saturday and found two bodies in a field. They found one victim lying on a mattress and another lying on the ground. Jerome Eskeets, the third victim who said he was able to flee, was hospitalized for his injuries.
Eskeets told police that he recognized one of the "kids" hitting and kicking him as someone who lived in a house nearby, and police found the trio of suspects there. The homeowner said the 15 and 16-year-old were his sons and Rios was a friend who had spent the night, according to the complaint.
The trio covered their faces with black T-shirts before walking over to the victims. According to one of the teens, they all took turns picking up cinder blocks and repeatedly smashing them into the men's faces.
Investigators have not yet confirmed the identities of the dead.