Homelessness skyrockted in major U.S. during the pandemic. NYC Mayor Eric Adams slashed resources in 2022 for those displaced, citing balancing the budget. Photo credit: Robert V. Ruggiero

‘Homeless serial killer’ suspect found, charged by D.C. courts

5 mins read

After an almost two-week chase, authorities charge a 30-year-old, mentally ill homeless man with shootings. Was Mayor Adams hasty in cracking down on homeless resources? Maybe so.

This month, a man shot five elderly homeless men in Washington D.C and New York City, with two having died. On March 15, D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert J. Contee III confirmed 30-year-old Gerald Brevard III would be charged with the violent crimes.

Prior to his arrest, New York City’s and District of Columbia’s mayors had a private conversation before issuing a joint statement on March 13. In said appeal, Mayors Eric Adams and Muriel Bowser relayed their sorrow surrounding the unfortunate, unexplainable events. As well, they beseeched anyone sleeping on the street to seek shelter the best they could.

“It is heartbreaking and tragic to know that in addition to all the dangers that unsheltered residents face, we now have a coldblooded killer on the loose, but we are certain that we will get the suspect off the street and into police custody,” the mayors asserted.

Brevard started his string of attacks in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, a total of three taking place there. Eventually, he ended with two shootings in New York City; one ended in a fatality.

Spanning March 3 to 9, three men were shot in the nation’s capital. One attack ended in the victim’s death. With the first two shootings, cops responded to gunshots being heard on the 1100 block of New York Avenue and H Street’s 1700 strip, Northeast in Washington, D.C., respectively. Both shootings happened in the wee hours of the morning, the first around 4 a.m and the second just shy of 1:30 a.m. Subsequently, authorities found men in both situations sustained non-fatal gunshot injuries.

Yet with the last, a man’s remains were found with multiple stab and gunshot wounds after a DC patrolman noticed a fire on the 400 block of New York Avenue Northeast a little after 2:50 a.m. on March 9.

The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia had a hunch the seemingly random attacks were not in fact arbitrary. So, they continued to investigate while releasing nearby surveillance footage.

By the morning of March 12, the fourth and fifth shootings were caught on camera. They also happened approximately 90 minutes apart in Lower Manhattan according to a press conference held by NYC Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan South Deputy Chief Hank Silitna along with other New York Police Department (NYPD) leadership officials.

As more information about the assaults rolled in, local New York media began to call the perpetrator a “serial killer” though the FBI defines this type of offender as carrying out “three or more killings . . . [that have] common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.”

In one of the two New York shootings, the perpetrator shot a 38-year-old homeless man in the forearm close to the corner of King and Varick streets around 4:30 a.m. In the other, officers found a dead 43-year-old man with gunshot wounds to his head and neck in a sleeping bag around 6 a.m. outside of 148 Lafayette Street in Chinatown. The NY Daily Mail says police did not discover him until almost 12 hours later.

After urging the public to submit any tips via the Crime Stoppers website, Deputy Chief Silitna expressed, “We’re talking about two [victims] that are homeless, the most vulnerable population in the City right now.” He continued, “We have extended no shortage of manpower to get this investigation on track.”

By that point, the NYPD, Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched a joint task force to investigate if the shooter was a serial killer crossing state lines. At that time, no motive for the shootings were given, nor has either city said what specific evidence led them to connect the attacks.

That said, it was not until Queens native turned Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department homicide captain Kevin Kentish was browsing through his social media that Brevard was apprehended. He saw NYPD’s surveillance photos and made the link between the shootings.

“We hope Brevard’s arrest provides a sense of closure for you but also relief to our vulnerable homeless population here in the District of Columbia,” Contee asserted. “This case is an example of what happens when there is good police work, science and community support.”

For the D.C. attacks, the suspect is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, and first-degree homicide. The District of Columbia Superior Court listed a mask and gloves, as well as bullet casings among evidence against Brevard. On March 16, the court denied Brevard’s request for release at his first court appearance.

He will remain in custody until otherwise. Moreover, Brevard has yet to be charged in New York.

Catch 22

Mayor Eric Adams takes picture with MTA worker at Subway Safety Plan announcement at Fulton Street Station on Friday 19, 2022. Collaboration is with New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

With Brevard’s case, there is a seeming point of ambivalence– protect and support the homeless, or police them?

During the search for a suspect, NYPD and a homeless outreach team hit the streets, even the subway, imploring the homeless to relocate. Yet, there is a considerably massive irony. While nearly one in every 106 New Yorkers is homeless according to Bowery Mission; recently, New York Governor Kathleen Hochul and Mayor Adams’ proposed  to clean up the subways as a result of violence committed by some vagrants with their “Subway Safety Plan” after eight major city stops saw an alleged 45 percent increase of homeless people in October 2021.

Added to New York’s leadership targeting the homeless population, Gotham’s mayor just released a new budget proposal that slashed the city’s housing resources last month. Purportedly, there were eight attacks on the homeless this past February, alone. However, a displaced person was suspected in only one of them.

To add, the local public has been in an uproar about such a crime happening on their home turf. Amidst the pandemic and general time of need, many are horrified.

“How can people lose their humanity?” Lamented by New Yorker-turned-New Jersey resident, Rosario Adujar to the Ark. “It’s really scary,” said the senior transplant. “Mental health is something serious. [Such violent crime] can happen to any of us.”

Notably, Brevard is also allegedly homeless and mentally ill. Even so, critics blame the criminal justice system for letting those in dire need of rehabilitation or other assistance slip through the cracks, especially homeless populations that experience significant levels of mentally illness; both treated and untreated. Reportedly, a plethora of studies have reported approximately one-third of homeless persons have a serious mental illness. Namely, schizophrenia or bipolar.

Brevard’s father, Gerald Brevard Jr., said in a statement, “He is a good person and like many across the world, he suffers from mental illness. The bigger picture is not that he has mental illness, but the number of times that he’s been within the judicial system and how the system has failed regarding the treatment of so many, including my son,” the elder Brevard said.

Reportedly, Brevard’s wrap sheet stems from 2013 as per 7News. Crimes have included drug possession and assault, even burglary in places like Virginia and D.C., where he previously pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in 2019. Yet in June of that same year, he was evaluated at St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, found fit to stand trial and was released.

Moreover, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says an estimated 6,380 people experiencing homelessness on any given day in D.C as of January 2020. Of that, 1,452 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. So, the city closed many of its homeless motels and shifted toward permanent housing. 

Hence, 2020 to 2021 saw a significant decrease in unsheltered families as reported by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. About 3871 singles and 405 families remain displaced there. They state that at any given time, 5,111 people are homeless with 86.5 percent being Black and 66 percent being men

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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