A man suspected of killing six men and wounding a woman in a series of shootings in northern California was arrested before dawn on Saturday as he drove through the streets of Stockton, armed with a handgun and possibly searching for another victim, police said.
Investigators began watching the suspect after receiving tips and stopped him in a car at about 2am in the Central Valley city where five of the shootings took place, the police chief, Stanley McFadden, said at a news conference.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, of Stockton, was dressed in black, had a mask around his neck, had a gun and “was out hunting”, McFadden alleged.
“We are sure we stopped another killing.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brownlee had an attorney to speak on his behalf. He was expected to be arraigned on Tuesday on murder charges.
A police photo showed the black-and-gray weapon allegedly carried by the suspect. It appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun containing some nonmetallic materials.
Police had been searching for a man clad in black who was caught on video at several of the crime scenes in Stockton, where five men were ambushed and shot to death between 8 July and 27 September. Four were walking, and one was in a parked car.
Police believe the same person was responsible for killing a man 70 miles away in Oakland in April 2021 and wounding a homeless woman in Stockton a week later.
Investigators have said ballistics tests and video evidence linked the crimes.
At the news conference, a moment of silence was held for the victims.
Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was killed in Oakland on April 10, 2021, and Natasha LaTour, 46, was shot in Stockton on April 16 of that year but survived. The five men killed in Stockton this year were Paul Yaw, 35, who died on 8 July; Salvador Debudey Jnr, 43, who died on 11 August; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died on August 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who died on September 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr, 54, who died on September 27.
Police said Brownlee has a criminal history and was believed to have also lived in several cities near Stockton, but they did not give further details.
Authorities said they received hundreds of tips after announcing the manhunt, and investigators located and watched the place where Brownlee was living.
“Based on tips coming into the department and Stockton Crime Stoppers, we were able to zero in on a possible suspect,” McFadden said. “Our surveillance team followed this person while he was driving. We watched his patterns and determined early this morning he was on a mission to kill.”
McFadden added that Brownlee was detained after engaging in what appeared to be threatening behavior, including going to parks and dark places, stopping and looking around before driving on.
Investigators were trying to identify a motive for the attacks. Police said some victims were homeless, but not all. None were beaten or robbed, and the woman who survived said her attacker didn’t say anything.
The police chief thanked various local, state and federal agencies that took part in the investigation, including the FBI, US Marshals and US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Local investigators had also worked with police in Chicago to determine whether the killings might be linked to two 2018 murders in that city’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Authorities said videos of suspects showed a man in black with a distinctive walk.
However, Chicago police said on Friday that there didn’t appear to be any link.