Northern California police seek ‘person of interest’ in 5 murders committed since July

STOCKTON, Calif. — Police in Northern California are investigating a string of five murders since July that they believe have been the work of the same killer or killers.

Stockton police officials have released a grainy surveillance photo of a person of interest in the case. Authorities also announced last week that the city is providing a $75,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Crime Stoppers has put up $10,000, along with another $10,000 from a local construction company owner. As of Monday, the total reward was $95,000, police officials announced.

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“Our detectives and task force officers have been working around the clock on these investigations,” Stockton police Chief Stanley McFadden said in a statement. “We are committed to protecting our community and solving these cases utilizing all the resources at our disposal, including you.”

Each of the victims was alone when he was targeted, authorities said. All but the first victim, Paul Alexander Yaw, 35, of Stockton, were Hispanic.

The other victims were identified Monday as Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, Juan Cruz, 52, and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54. All of the men were from Stockton, ABC News reported.

Yaw’s family told the network that he was “a good boy who grew into a good man with a big heart.”

“He was always there for you if you needed him,” the family said in a statement. “He was a son, brother, father, grandson, nephew and cousin. I still can’t believe he’s not coming back.”

Jerry Lopez told Sacramento’s ABC affiliate that he is the brother of the most recent victim. Lawrence Lopez, known by his family as Lorenzo, was found around 2 a.m. Tuesday lying on a sidewalk in the 900 block of Porter Avenue.

He died at the scene.

Jerry Lopez said his brother was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“It’s hard to process that this has happened,” Lopez said. “I mean, me and my brother have been like twins. We were a year apart, so we were pretty close.”

The spate of killings began around 12:30 a.m. July 8, when Yaw was gunned down in a small park in the 5600 block of Kermit Lane. He was taken to a hospital, where he died, according to police.

Yaw’s mother said he had been homeless for about five years.

“I have always hoped in my heart that at some point we would get reunited and have a relationship,” Greta Bogrow told NBC News from her Texas home. “It’s always a mom’s dream that their children turn out to be good people. He was a good person. I just wish I had the opportunity to speak to him again in this life.”

More than a month later, on the night of Aug. 11, officers were called to the 4900 block of West Lane for a shooting. Police and paramedics found Debudey lying in the parking lot of a Popeyes restaurant.

The husband and father died at the scene.

The frequency of the shootings soon began increasing, with the next shooting taking place in the 800 block of E. Hammer Lane the morning of Aug. 30. According to police, dispatchers received a call around 6:41 a.m. that day regarding a man found inside a car.

Like the previous victim, Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the scene.

Three weeks later, around 4:27 a.m. Sept. 21, officers were called to the 4400 block of Manchester Avenue, where Cruz was found dying on a sidewalk. Only six days later, Lorenzo Lopez was found lying in the 900 block of Porter Avenue.

Lopez, like Yaw, was homeless, his brother told NBC News.

On Wednesday, the day after Lopez was slain, Stockton police officials issued a statement about the rise in homicides.

“As detectives have been looking at the data and evidence for some of the recent homicides, they have noticed the homicides are occurring during the night or early morning hours, and our victims were alone,” authorities said in a news release. “We are currently assembling a team of detectives, task force officers (federal, state, and county), crime analysts, camera room operators, and evidence technicians who will be taking a very close look at some of these patterns we are seeing.”

Initially, detectives did not believe the killings were related. While poring over the patterns and the evidence in the cases, however, they determined that five of the murders appeared to be linked.

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Each of the victims appeared to have been ambushed. None of the men were robbed, and none of the crimes appeared drug- or gang-related.

Detectives have not said exactly how they were tied together but ABC News reported that it is through physical evidence.

McFadden on Friday urged members of the public to reach out to police if they have information about the slayings. He also urged people to use caution and be aware of their surroundings.

“Please do not fall victim, be alert, have your head on a swivel, stay where it’s lit, communicate,” McFadden added. “We need you, we need your help, we need your tips, and we need you to help not to spread misinformation.”

Anyone with information about the murders is asked to call the Stockton Police Department on its tip line at 209-937-8167 or email detectives at policetips@stocktonca.gov. Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 209-946-0600 or online at StocktonCrimeStoppers.org.