Suspect arrested in attacks on homeless

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-15 22:22:04-04

Police Friday arrested a man they believe to be the "disturbed murderer" who carried out a recent series of assaults that left three homeless men fatally wounded and two others clinging to life in various San Diego neighborhoods.

A patrol officer spotted Jon David Guerrero, 39, riding a bicycle in the 500 block of West Laurel Street in the Park West area about 5:30 a.m., determined he matched the description of the perpetrator of the two-week spate of deadly violence and took him into custody without incident, according to police.

"We can all rest a little easier tonight, knowing this predator is off our streets," SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said during a mid-afternoon briefing on the series of attacks, during which the victims were brutalized -- two of them set on fire -- as they slept on roadsides, in open areas and under freeway bridges.

Though another man was jailed in the case last week, then released days later when additional evidence cleared him, Zimmerman told reporters she "firmly" believed Guerrero was the person "responsible for these vicious crimes."

"I say that with complete confidence after receiving a thorough briefing from our homicide unit and fully understanding the significant amount of physical evidence they have collected to date, and throughout this entire investigation," Zimmerman said.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer praised Zimmerman's staff for its "tireless" and "around-the-clock" efforts to catch the assailant.

"I can tell you, our police department did not rest," he said. "This was a day-and-night operation."

The mayor said city officials were intent on securing justice for the victims of the serial killer.

"Angelo De Nardo, Shawn Mitchell Longley (and) Dionicio Derek Vahidy were all innocent victims whose lives were cut short by a disturbed murderer," Faulconer said.

Guerrero, a Coronado native who most recently has lived in downtown San Diego, was booked into county jail on suspicion of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. He was being held without bail, with arraignment scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

The spree of assaults across the city has left San Diegans -- particularly those who live on the streets -- shaken and on edge since the Fourth of July weekend.

Guerrero was captured about an hour after the most recent assault in the series came to light. Shortly after 4:30 a.m.., two San Diego Harbor Police officers heard someone yelling for help while driving along the 1800 block of C Street, underneath Interstate 5 in the East Village, SDPD Capt. David Nisleit said.

The personnel pulled over and found a 55-year-old homeless man suffering from "significant trauma" to his upper body, the captain said. Though badly injured, the victim, whose name has not been released, was expected to survive.

The suspect was arrested about two miles from the site of the assault.

The first attack in the series occurred July 3. About 8 a.m. that day, the burning body of De Nardo, 53, was found underneath an I-5 offramp near the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park. Witnesses to the disturbing scene described seeing a man running across the freeway near Claremont Drive, carrying a gas can.

The following day, Longley, 41, was found dead at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach, and 61-year-old transient Manuel Mason was severely wounded near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district, according to police.

On the morning of July 6, Vahidy, 23, was gravely wounded in downtown San Diego by an assailant who fled after leaving a towel burning on top of him. Vahidy died in a hospital four days later.

Authorities have not released the victims' causes of death or disclosed a suspected motive for the violence. There are no indications that the suspect knew the victims, according to police.

During Friday afternoon's news conference at downtown SDPD headquarters, Nisleit expanded on Zimmerman's assurances that the right man was in custody in the case.

"Today, detectives discovered physical evidence at the scene (of the latest assault) and at the suspect's residence that definitively and uniquely links together the recent murders and brutal attacks against our homeless community," the captain said.

Several neighbors near the latest attack gathered Friday evening to show solidarity with the homeless.

Crystal Slusher told 10News she was angry and worried, saying, "Even though we don't really know these people, they're kind of our neighbors; see them around and we do care about their safety."

Courtney Southwick echoed that sentiment, adding, "The homeless people here; we get to know their faces, see them every day, almost become neighbors even though we don't interact much. We do care about their welfare."

Greg Slusher added, "It's terrible to victimize somebody who's already got such an unfortunate situation on their hands."