A burned body was found at a homeless encampment in Van Nuys on Tuesday morning, coming on the heels of a series of fire-related attacks in recent weeks that have stirred panic and fear among the city’s homeless, authorities said.
Cmdr. Alan Hamilton, the second-in-command at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Bureau, said the body was found stuffed in a shopping cart near Victory and Balboa boulevards around 8 a.m. The body of the victim, who has not been identified, was severely burned, Hamilton said.
It was not immediately clear whether the victim was homeless, though Hamilton said the body was “recovered in an area where transients are known to encamp.”
LAPD spokesman Tony Im said the body was found on a bike path near Lake Balboa Park and the Sepulveda Basin, where collections of tents often are spotted.
Hamilton said the case is being investigated by the department’s Robbery-Homicide Division. No arrests have been made and it was not immediately clear what led to the attack. Hamilton said detectives have not officially labeled the killing a homicide.
The body was burned in a separate location and then moved to the Van Nuys area, according to a law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly.
Investigators think an accelerant was used to set the fire, according to the official, who said the case will be investigated as a homicide unless a different determination is made during an autopsy.
Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, said a cause of death has yet to be determined. Hamilton said the body was burned so badly that investigators do not even know the gender of the victim yet.
The discovery of the burned body comes on the heels of a string of fire-related attacks on the city’s homeless. On Aug. 25, police accused two men of setting fire to a homeless encampment on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, sparking a blaze that later grew into a 45-acre brush fire that forced homes to be evacuated in Glendale.
A firefighter sustained minor injuries in that incident, but no one else was hurt. Two Los Angeles men were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in connection with the Eagle Rock fire, but prosecutors have yet to file charges.
The next day, 62-year-old Dwayne Fields was killed after someone set fire to his tent outside the Midnight Mission on skid row. Fields was a beloved homeless musician who also went by the name Darrell and was an active member of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, friends said. A 38-year-old homeless man has been charged with murder in Fields’ death.
Advocates for the homeless recently told The Times there has been a “rash” of tent fires in the downtown area in recent weeks, often motivated by disputes over space between homeless people.