This city's homeless residents — and the organizations that work with them — were on edge Tuesday as police continued to hunt for an assailant thought to have killed two men and left a third fighting for his life.
Authorities have identified the first victim, found ablaze Sunday morning under a freeway bridge in the Bay Park neighborhood, as Angelo De Nardo. An autopsy determined he suffered extensive trauma to his upper torso and died before being ignited, said Lt. Manny Del Toro of the San Diego Police Department Homicide Unit.
A second attack occurred Monday morning in the Midway District, where officers found a homeless man who had been stabbed. He was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. About an hour later, another man was found dead at an athletic field in Ocean Beach. Both men, whose names have not been released, also suffered trauma to their upper torsos.
Police believe the three attacks are linked and have released grainy photographs and surveillance video of a man thought to be connected.
Bob McElroy, executive director of the Alpha Project, said many homeless people get most of their news and information by word of mouth, so volunteers have been informing the community of the attacks and offering tips to stay safe.
"Our teams are making people aware, telling them to sleep in groups and keep an eye on each other," McElroy said. Homeless advocates, he said, have been circulating the pictures police released but so far no one seemed to recognize the man.
McElroy said De Nardo had stayed at the group's shelter for a time and utilized the Neil Good Day Center, where homeless men can shower, do laundry and get mail. He was contacted by one of the organization's outreach teams as recently as couple of months ago, McElroy said.
Although many in the homeless community are accustomed to a certain level of violence, advocate Michael McConnell said, the killings have people scared.
"Certainly there's a lot of fear," McConnell said. "It has really raised people's level of anxiety."
When police released photographs of the person of interest, McConnell said he made fliers and began passing them out — especially to people who were alone. He said he saw a number of people making group sleeping arrangements.
"Quite a few asked for extra fliers so they could help get the information out," he said.
McElroy said tensions have been high in San Diego as the homeless population has increased.
"We have so many more people now on the streets, and we don't have emergency shelters anymore — any place for people to go," he said. "Most of the [homeless] folks are trapped in some form of mental illness or are self-medicating. You've got residents who are fed up. ...There's a huge level of frustration. It's a volatile mix."