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A suspected serial killer is hunting in California. Here’s what we know so far

Click to play video: 'California authorities ask public for help amid search for suspected serial killer'
California authorities ask public for help amid search for suspected serial killer
WATCH: California authorities ask public for help amid search for suspected serial killer – Oct 4, 2022

A potential serial killer may be on the loose in central California, according to local police who are investigating six shooting deaths that appear to be connected. All of the men who died were ambushed alone in the dark and police are baffled as to why they were targeted.

None of the men were robbed or beaten before their killings and none appear to have known each other, Stockton police officer Joseph Silva said on Monday. The shootings don’t seem to be related to gangs or drugs, either.

“It definitely meets the definition of a serial killer,” Silva said. “What makes this different is the shooter is just looking for an opportunity and unfortunately our victims were alone in a dark area.”

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Five of the shooting deaths occurred between the months of July and September 2022 in Stockton. At first, police believed these were the only incidents in connection with the potential serial killer until their investigation turned up two similar shootings in 2021, including one in which the victim survived.

The San Joaquin County medical examiner’s office released the names of some of the victims on Monday: Paul Alexander Yaw, 35, who died on July 8 at 12:31 a.m.; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who died on Aug. 11 at 9:49 p.m.; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died on Aug. 30 at 6:41 a.m.; Juan Cruz, 52, who died on Sept. 21 at 4:27 a.m.; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died on Sept. 27 at 1:53 a.m.

These five victims were all killed in Stockton within a radius of a few square miles.

Image provided by the Stockton Police Department showing the locations of five murders that occurred between July and September 2022 that may have been carried out by a serial killer. Stockton Police Department/Facebook

The sixth potential death that police are looking into occurred on April 10, 2021 in the nearby city of Oakland. Authorities have not released the name of the victim but specified that it was a 40-year-old Latino man who was shot at 4:18 a.m.

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Police have also not released the name of the person who survived this potential serial killer but said that the victim was a 46-year-old Black woman who was shot in Stockton on April 16, 2021 at 3:20 a.m.

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Stockton police on Monday announced a $95,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the killings.

“Please remember our victims have grieving family members who need resolution. If you know something, say something,” police said in a press release.

Authorities also 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 crime scenes.

Image provided by the Stockton Police Department showing a "person of interest" in a recent string of murders that may have been carried out by a serial killer.
Image provided by the Stockton Police Department showing a “person of interest” in a recent string of  California murders that may have been carried out by a serial killer. Stockton Police Department/Facebook

None of the shootings have been captured by video cameras and no firearms have been recovered.

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“We don’t have any video of anybody holding any gun or actually committing a crime,” Silva said in a phone interview on Monday.

Details on the 2021 shootings are still unclear but Silva said that available footage and ballistics evidence link the five 2022 killings. All five men were shot by a handgun, though it’s not yet clear if the same gun was used in each crime.

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There may be multiple people involved in the violence, Silva said. “To be honest, we just don’t know,” he said. “This person or people who are out doing this, they are definitely very bold and brazen.”

Police said the victims were each walking alone or were in a parked car when they were killed in the evening or early morning. Authorities are warning community members to travel in groups in well-lit areas and “remain vigilant and have good situational awareness.”

Three of the victims’ families have made public comments about the deaths.

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The brother of Lawrence Lopez Sr. told KXTV that his brother was “was just a person who was out here at the wrong place at the wrong time at the wrong circumstance.”

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

The mother of Paul Alexander Yaw told NBC News, “My son had a big heart. He didn’t want to ever hurt anybody.”

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The two were estranged and she said she regrets that they didn’t reunite before his death. “I just wish I had the opportunity to speak to him again in this life,” she said.

“I hope that all of this publicity brings this person in to get some kind of justice for what he has done to my son and all the other victims and their families,” she added.

The wife of Salvador Debudey Jr. told KCRA that his death has devastated her.

“To be honest with you, a part of me died with him that day,” she said. “It’s been hard. It’s been really, really hard.”

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— With files from The Associated Press

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