A group that operates two homeless shelters in Orange County, Calif., is seeing a 40 percent increase in walk-ins this week, after police said they believe a serial killer is targeting homeless people in the county.
Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, said in each of the past couple of evenings about 140 people have checked in at the group’s shelters in Fullerton and Santa Ana, compared to 100 to 110 normally.
The increase seems significant particularly given this week’s summer-like temperatures which normally depress the number of people staying at the shelters, Haynes said. “It seems reasonable to make some sort of connection (with the murder investigation),” he said.
So far, three middle-aged homeless men have been stabbed to death in the county since late December. The first victim, 53-year-old James Patrick McGillivray, was found Dec. 20 in Placentia. The body of Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found Dec. 28 in Anaheim. The third victim, Paulus Cornelius Smit, 57, was killed Dec. 30 in Yorba Linda.
“We believe these murders are likely committed by the same subject and we feel he is extremely dangerous to the public,” Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said. Police have obtained a murky surveillance photo of a possible suspect, a man dressed in dark clothes, and also are looking for a white 2000 to 2003 Toyota that may be linked to the killings.
“I’m scared for my extended family out here,” Modesto Vasquez, who is homeless, told KNBC Los Angeles.
Since the killings, there has been heavy outreach to the homeless, with advocacy groups and police urging people to get off the streets at night to stay safe.
The Orange County Rescue Mission is handing out "safety kits," including whistles and flashlights, to homeless people and urging them to stay in groups, said the group's president, Jim Palmer. He said he expects an upsurge in people seeking shelter in the next few days.
Haynes of Mercy House praised the local news media for their extensive coverage of the killings and the investigation, a joint effort by local police, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
“So much of the time, homeless people are treated as almost subhuman,” he said. “Even if you’re on hard times, you still matter.”
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