Investigators in a Phoenix suburb are working to piece together evidence that will lead them to a cold-blooded killer who targets victims of color.
Since April, five men and women between the ages of 12-32 were killed in Maryvale, a neighborhood in Phoenix. All of the slayings resemble one another: the victims were gunned down while in their car or outside their house on weekends and evenings, NBC News reports.
Investigators say there is physical evidence linking all of the cases, but the culprit is still on the loose.
Thirty-two-year-old Horacio de Jesus Pena, the latest victim in the string of shootings, was gunned down in his driveway. With no leads, his family waits in desperate anticipation that police will capture his killer. They worry the killer will take another victim soon.
“For not one person to have more information is mind-blowing,” Nancy, Pena’s twin sister, told NBC News. “This person is still out there. We need to get them off the street.”
Police have ramped up efforts in the neighborhood, increasing the number of officers on patrol and visiting residents door to door searching for clues and evidence.
Mike Upchurch, a Phoenix chapter leader of volunteer safety group the Guardian Angels, told NBC News that the community is resolved to staying in doors out of fear that the killer will strike again.
“We met up at a grocery store parking lot on a Friday evening, which is payday for people so it should be crowded, but that parking lot was like a ghost town,” Upchurch said. “People are afraid of what’s going on.”
The first victim, Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, 21, was senselessly gunned down on April 1 while he visited his pregnant fiancée at her home.
One week later, 19-year-old Manuel Castro Garcia was shot outside his home. Next, Angelina Linner, 31, along with 12-year-old Maleah Russell, were tragically killed when the shooter opened fire on a group of people listening to music.
Maleah’s mother, Stephanie Ellis, was also shot and survived, but is fighting for her life in the hospital. Ellis’ father, who would not disclose his name for safety reasons, told 12News he is praying for her to pull through.
“All of it hurt me, but if she doesn’t make it I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
“There’s been no activity, very few tips,” Phoenix Police Sgt. John Howard said to NBC News. “None of the shootings were caught on video, and witness descriptions of possible suspects have varied, giving investigators no strong leads to follow.”
At a vigil on Thursday, members of the community met to honor the victims, according to the Arizona Republic.
“We need you to keep your eyes and ears open,” said Officer Sean Connolly, as he addressed the crowd. “It is extremely impactful and powerful that you come out here and send a message to stay involved.”
A Silent Witness program is offering a reward of $11,000 to anyone who can provide information that will lead to an arrest or indictment, the Republic reports.
One can only hope that with community involvement and investigators’ clues, the killer will be found and brought to justice.