In the early hours of Saturday morning, New York City police received a 911 call reporting an assault in Lower Manhattan. When officers arrived at the scene, they found a man, unconscious, suffering from severe head trauma. He would later die of his injuries.
After another man appeared with a similar injury, the officers swept the area. They found two other dead victims nearby and then a third at another location, each with severe head trauma.
The four deceased men, all believed to be homeless, and one severely injured victim were apparently random victims of bludgeoning, police said.
A few blocks away, police apprehended a 24-year-old man matching witness descriptions. Nearby investigators found a metal pipe they believe was used as a weapon, Chief of Detectives Michael Baldassano said at a news conference Saturday morning. The suspect, who Baldassano said also appeared to be homeless, was being treated as a “person of interest” at this point in the investigation.
“The motive right now seems to be random attacks,” said Baldassano, who oversees investigations for south Manhattan, noting that race or age did not appear to play a part in the crime. Police say the men were sleeping when they were attacked.
The surviving victim had been transported to a nearby hospital in “pretty serious condition,” Baldassano said.
As with most major U.S. cities, homelessness is one of the most hotly debated issues in the nation’s largest. Tens of thousands of people experience homelessness there each year, and the problem has reached heights not seen since the Great Depression, according to the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. In August, over 61,000 people stayed in New York City homeless shelters each night, including over 21,000 children, according to the coalition’s data.
As news of the Saturday attacks spread, the Coalition for the Homeless called for New York to build more affordable and subsidized housing to help people transition out of homelessness.
“The callous attack against five homeless men last night is unfathomable in its brutality,” Giselle Routhier, policy director for Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement. “Four men lost their lives and one is fighting to survive. It should serve as a reminder to all of us that our homeless neighbors live without the protection and privacy of a home. They are our fellow human beings and deserve the dignity and safety that a home assures.”