STOCKTON, Calif. - Ballistics tests have linked the fatal shootings of six men and the wounding of one woman in Northern California — all potentially at the hands of a serial killer — in crimes going back more than a year, police said.
Authorities last week announced that five men in Stockton had been slain in recent months, ambushed and shot to death alone in the dark. Late Monday, police said two additional cases last year — a man’s death in Oakland and the non-fatal shooting of a woman in Stockton — had been tied to those killings.
"It definitely meets the definition of a serial killer," said Stockton Police Officer Joseph Silva. "What makes this different is the shooter is just looking for an opportunity, and unfortunately our victims were alone in a dark area."
Police would not say whether all seven shootings had been linked to the same gun.
In the fatal Stockton cases, none of the men were robbed or beaten before the killings — which all took place within a radius of a few square miles between July 8 and Sept. 27 — and none appeared to have known each other, Silva said. The shootings also do not seem to be related to gangs or drugs.
The other Stockton crime — in which a 46-year-old woman was shot but survived her injuries — occurred April 16, 2021, around 3:20 a.m., police said. The woman was also alone at the time.
Authorities said the shooting happened near a tent at an encampment in Stockton.
The shooting death of 39-year-old Juan Miguel Vasquez Serrano in the 5700 block of Harmon Avenue in Oakland has also been connected to the violence in Stockton, police said. Serrano was shot to death around 4:15 a.m. on April 10, 2021. It was not immediately clear whether the man was also unaccompanied when he was killed.
The city of Stockton, Stockton Crime Stoppers and a local construction company owner offered a total of $115,000 for information leading to an arrest in the slayings.
Police released a grainy still image of a "person of interest," dressed all in black and wearing a black cap, who appeared in videos from several of the homicide crime scenes in Stockton.
Authorities later provided surveillance video of the person of interest that shows someone dressed in dark clothing walking with an uneven stride and unusually upright posture.
The San Joaquin County’s Office of the Medical Examiner identified the Stockton victims on Monday as Paul Yaw, 35, who was killed on July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who died on Aug. 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died on Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who was killed on Sept. 21 and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54.
Lopez was shot shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 27 in a residential area just north of downtown.
He "was just a person who was out here at the wrong place, at the wrong time, at the wrong circumstance," his brother, Jerry Lopez, told KXTV-TV. "It’s hard to process that this has happened."
There may even be multiple people involved in the violence.
"To be honest, we just don’t know," Silva said. "This person or people who are out doing this, they are definitely very bold and brazen."
Police said four of the Stockton homicide victims were walking alone and a fifth was in a parked car when they were killed in the evening or early morning in the city of 320,000 residents, located about 50 miles south of the state capital, Sacramento.