What to Know
- The suspected gunman sought in five targeted attacks on homeless people in NYC and Washington, D.C., in 9 days was taken into custody early Tuesday in DC, officials said; he was identified as Gerald Brevard III
- The first in the series of attacks happened in D.C. on March 3, while both in Manhattan came Saturday; two of the victims were killed, including a man found shot in NYC and one in a burning tent in DC
- Chilling video showed the suspect stalk one of his victims before opening fire on the sleeping target; officials decried the attacks on what they describe as among their cities' most vulnerable populations
A 30-year-old man suspected of shooting five homeless men in New York City and Washington, D.C., in a targeted and at times deadly attack spree was arrested early Tuesday following a multistate manhunt, according to officials in both cities and a senior law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the case.
Police declined to describe the circumstances of his arrest or any immediate charges. A senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the case, however, says DC cops got a tip after releasing clear images and video of their suspect — and the NYPD got a tip about his name. Both tips helped track the suspect — identified by the senior law enforcement official as Gerald Brevard III — down.
NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said officials received over a dozen Crime Stoppers tips and described Brevard as a "strong person of interest" in the NYC shootings. An investigation is ongoing as detectives travel to DC to interview him.
Officers staked Brevard out and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents, with weapons drawn, took him into custody at a DC gas station, Essig said. He was wearing similar clothes as he had worn when he allegedly shot the victims in Manhattan Saturday, the official said, but had no weapon on him. He lives in the Washington area.
"This case is an example of what happens when there is good police work, science and community support," officials said at a D.C. Tuesday press conference.
Investigators are now looking into why the man was out roaming the streets of DC overnight once again, wondering if he planned any additional attacks despite not having a gun on him when he was found. In both New York cases, the official said the suspect walked around the block and pulled the trigger after scouting the area. Police said .22 caliber shell casings were discovered at all the crime scenes.
The senior official said Brevard's record includes at least one past assault on a woman in Virginia. Essig added that Brevard had multiple contacts in other states down south but no connections in New York. No other details have been released at this point regarding him.
Brevard's father, in a statement sent to a New York Times reporter, expressed his condolences to the victims and their families. He said his son suffered from mental illness and that illness hadn't been addressed despite multiple encounters with the criminal justice system, according to the paper.
"I cannot speak to the details of the case," the suspect's father told the Times. "I can only speak to the issue of the failure of the judicial system identifying that my son suffers from mental illness but not treating it."
Grandfather Gerald Brevard Sr. also declined comment specifically on the case, but told NBC New York, "I'm deeply saddened about the victims. Everyone that was injured and killed. My condolences to the families of the victims."
The suspect had been eyed in at least five attacks on homeless people in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., in a nine-day span. The first attack in the pattern came on March 3; the latest two were the ones Saturday in New York City.
Two of the victims were killed, including a man found shot on Lafayette Street and one discovered in a burning tent in Northeast D.C. Chilling video of one of the attacks sent shockwaves across the nation for its callous disregard for human life.
"We promised that we’d bring this killer to justice. We kept that promise," Mayor Eric Adams tweeted Tuesday upon news of the arrest. "Thank you to all of our partners in law enforcement for their good work. Public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity. Keeping our streets safe means bringing our country back."
"Excellent detective work, teamwork with our partners from the Metropolitan Police in DC at the ATF, and the FBI culminated in the arrest of the suspect in five shootings, including two murders of homeless men in New York City and Washington, DC,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell added. "People experiencing homelessness have many worries to cope with every day. Tonight, they will have one less."
A day ago, police in both affected cities released multiple surveillance photographs, including a close-up snapshot clearly showing the man's face, and urged people who might know him to come forward.
“Our reach is far and wide, and we’re coming for you,” Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee said at a news conference in Washington, speaking directly to the gunman.
Investigators acknowledged, though, that they still knew little about the suspected killer or his motive.
Court records show Brevard was arrested in July 2018 on assault charges and later pleaded guilty to attempted assault with a deadly weapon. He was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in June 2019. Records show Brevard was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility in DC. A month later, he was deemed competent to stand trial. Soon after, records show, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison. That sentence, however, was suspended.
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Adams, speaking together at the news conference, urged anyone living on the streets to go to city shelters where they might be safer.
“We know that our unsheltered residents already face a lot of daily dangers and it is unconscionable that anybody would target this vulnerable population,” Bowser said.
Adams said New York City police and homeless outreach teams would focus on finding unhoused people in the subways and other locations to urge them to seek refuge at city-owned shelters. They're also looking for additional possible cases.
Investigators in the two cities began to suspect a link between the shootings on Sunday after a Metropolitan Police Department homicide captain — a former resident of New York City — saw surveillance photos that had been released Saturday night by the NYPD while scrolling through social media.
The man in those photos looked similar to the one being sought by his own department.
D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee credited the quick coordination between departments, saying that without that officer making the connection, “It could have been months,” before the link between the attacks was discovered.
Timeline of Shootings
The earliest known shooting happened at around 4 a.m. on March 3 in Washington, D.C., police said, when a man was shot and wounded in the city's Northeast section. A second man was wounded on March 8, just before 1:30 a.m.
At 3 a.m. the next day, March 9, police and firefighters found a dead man inside a burning tent. He was initially thought to have suffered fatal burns, but a subsequent autopsy revealed that the man had died of multiple stab and gunshot wounds.
The killer then traveled north to New York City, police said. At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, the sleeping man was shot, and about 90 minutes later, the gunman fatally shot another man on Lafayette Street in SoHo, police said. The man’s body was found in his sleeping bag just before 5 p.m. Saturday.
“He looked around. He made sure no one was there. And he intentionally took the life of an innocent person,” Adams said.
D.C. police confirmed there were ballistic links between the shootings, and said that all five of the shootings were linked back to the same gun. Police believe that Brevard took public transportation back and forth between D.C. and New York.
New York City police said that the gunman shot the victims without saying a word or having any interaction with them, and D.C. police said they believe the three shootings were "very much consistent" with what was seen in NYC.
Neighbors on King Street identified the man who survived the heartless shooting. He was seen on Monday with a bandage on his right arm, returning to the scene of the gunshots to collect his belongings.
The victim told NBC New York that he is OK, though is still in pain and bleeding from the wound. The man, who did not want to be identified, also said he didn't know why he was targeted, but feels safer knowing there has been an arrest and is grateful to be alive. Police aren't sure why he was targeted, either, nor why the suspect would have been in the city.
In all five incidents between the two cities, all five victims were men experiencing homelessness who were sleeping outside, and in most instances were alone. The D.C. police commissioner said that they are confident that the five shootings are the only victims, but said it is possible there are more out there.
On top of tracking surveillance video, law enforcement authorities are also asking agencies along the East Coast to see if they have any similar unsolved cases, two senior law enforcement officials said Monday.
"Homelessness should not be a homicide. This was a cold-blooded attack," Adams said at the Monday evening press conference from D.C. "When you look at the pre-meditative action of the shooter, it sends a clear and loud message that we need the help from the public...Someone knows this person. We are asking for the public to find him."
On Monday, a new image of the alleged gunman was released, but authorities shared few details on its source.
Reactions From Homeless Community and Advocates
Chilling video showed the suspect stalking one of his victims before opening fire on the sleeping and defenseless target.
The video, exclusively obtained by NBC New York, shows the suspect walk up to where a 38-year-old victim was asleep on a sidewalk in SoHo, near construction scaffolding. The shooter then appears to aim and fire on the sleeping man, who was roused from his sleep by the gunfire. The gunman then can be seen running off.
Others in the homeless community said they knew they could have easily fallen victim to an attack as well.
“Any one of us who’s homeless could have went to that same situation,” said Kess Abraham, who fell into homelessness last month.
After finding refuge in parks and other places across Brooklyn and Manhattan, Abraham tried to find help at the Bowery Mission, which houses hundreds of homeless people in its facilities across the city. He said he was “pained” to learn of “a guy who lived on the streets who probably was minding his own business getting murdered for no reason.”
Joel Castillo, a 24-year-old experiencing a first brush with homelessness who was also at the mission's downtown facility, said more should be done to keep the city's residents safe — homeless or otherwise.
“I don’t know if it’s a police problem, but given the circumstances, the police should actually kind of step up and do a little bit more. I’m not saying that they don’t already do enough,” he said, “but what I am saying is that there should be a lot more measures taken to ensure that the city’s taxpayers are kept safe.”
James Winans, the mission’s chief executive officer, said it was “very sobering” that one of the killings happened just blocks from the organization's emergency shelter.
The latest attacks were reminiscent of the beating deaths of four homeless men as they slept on the streets in Chinatown in the fall of 2019. Another homeless man, Randy Santos, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in those attacks.
A year ago, four people were stabbed in New York City, two fatally, by a man who randomly attacked homeless people in the subway system. That assailant, who was also homeless, is awaiting trial.
New York City's mayor has been criticized by some anti-poverty advocates for his plan to remove homeless people from the city's subway system by deploying police and mental health workers to keep people from sleeping in trains or stations.
Adams, on Monday, defended his policy, saying it was designed to protect the safety of both commuters and homeless residents.
“There is nothing dignified about allowing people to sleep on subway platforms,” he said.
Adams said Monday that teams will still be deployed to remove individuals from sleeping in the subway system, and said that the city is required by law to house any individual that seeks shelter.
The violence underscored the urgency to get the homeless off the streets and into safe housing, said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City.
“The reason that these people were attacked is because they didn’t have that safety of permanent housing," she said. “And that’s why we really need to use these tragedies as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure that people have a better option than the streets where they’re exposed to both the elements as well as people who might wish to do them harm.”