SAN DIEGO - A suspect was arrested Thursday in connection with a four-day spree of violence that killed two homeless men and critically injured two others in various San Diego neighborhoods.
Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, was taken into custody in the area of Broadway and H Street in Chula Vista late Thursday morning in connection with the spate of violence, during which two of the victims were set on fire, according to San Diego police.
A source told 10News Padgett's arrest stemmed from "a good lead in Chula Vista last night."
Padgett has since been booked into San Diego Central Jail on suspicion of two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson.
In response to a reporter's question, SDPD Capt. David Nisleit said it was unclear if Padgett, a Chula Vista native, was homeless himself. Authorities have declined to release a suspected motive for the assaults.
Investigators do not believe there are any outstanding suspects in the case, Nisleit said.
10News learned Padgett was arrested in 2010 in Chula Vista on suspicion of setting a transient on fire as he slept.
Court documents show Padgett was sentenced to four years in prison for the incident.
The documents also described how a witness saw him pouring an unknown fluid on another homeless man, heard a "whoosh" noise and then saw fire.
The witness said he saw Padgett stand over the victim, watching him burn.
In a handwritten letter to the judge, Padgett said he wanted the victim to see the fire burning next to him and wake up angry. He said he didn't hurt him purposely.
On Wednesday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and police Chief Shelley Zimmerman called the effort to identify and capture the assailant, who began attacking transients last weekend, the primary law enforcement priority for the city.
During an update this morning, Nisleit said the "very violent person" carrying out the brutal attacks may be using public transportation and urged bus and trolley riders to be on the lookout for him.
Surveillance cameras at a convenience store near where the first victim was found captured images of a man believed to be Padgett.
About 8 a.m. Sunday, Padgett allegedly killed 53-year-old Angelo De Nardo of San Diego and set his body on fire in an open area off the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park, according to police. An autopsy determined that De Nardo died prior to being set ablaze.
Shortly before 5 a.m. on Independence Day, transient Manuel Mason, 61, was found bleeding from wounds to his upper body near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district. He remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Less than 90 minutes after the assault on Mason was reported, 41-year-old drifter Shawn Longley was discovered dead at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach.
About 5 a.m. Wednesday, a 23-year-old homeless man was gravely injured in the area of Broadway and State Street, and a towel he was sleeping under was doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze, according to police.
The victim, whose name has not been released, was hospitalized in extremely critical condition and had a poor prognosis for survival, officials said.
Authorities have declined to disclose the cause or causes of the targeted men's non-fire-related injuries, though Nisleit said all four victims had suffered significant trauma to their upper bodies.
Over the last five days, police have been warning the homeless to protect themselves by remaining vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times, avoiding sleeping alone on the streets and staying in open, well-lit areas.
Late Thursday morning, Father Joe's Villages, a major local homeless-services provider, announced that it was seeking funding to provide additional beds at its downtown St. Vincent de Paul Village shelter as a means of helping protect those who have nowhere else to stay.
Zimmerman told reporters on Wednesday that she had made bringing in the perpetrator of the attacks her officers' primary objective as they go about the rest of their daily duties.
"These evil acts of violence are some of the worst that I have seen in my 34 years in law enforcement," Zimmerman said. "This killer has targeted some of our city's most vulnerable citizens while they are asleep."
Faulconer said police officers were fanning out to make those in the transient community aware of the attacks and to keep them safe.
"These crimes against some of our city's most vulnerable people are absolutely reprehensible," Faulconer said.
This evening, Nisleit said detectives would be reviewing other recent assaults against the local homeless population to determine whether they might be related to this week's series of attacks.
Anyone with information that could be pertinent to the investigation was asked to call San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 or contact the agency online at sdcrimestoppers.org.