At a press conference on Thursday, Arizona's top law-enforcement officials announced that they have increased the reward for information about the Serial Street Shooter, saying they urgently need the public's help to crack the case.
The news conference at Phoenix police headquarters included Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales, Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner, FBI assistant special-agent-in-charge Michael Caputo, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assistant special-agent-in-charge Mark Murray, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, and Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski. Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead wasn't there, but DPS is participating in the combined effort.
Brnovich said his office donated another $25,000 to the reward, raising it to $75,000.
"We know that someone out there has some information," he said. "We want to remind folks: The life you save may be your own or maybe one of your loved ones."
Police believe the suspect is capable of committing violence against anyone, including people he knows.
The unknown killer, whom witnesses have described as a slender Hispanic man in his 20s, has murdered seven people in nine separate shooting incidents since March. Most of the victims were killed in the west-side Phoenix community of Maryvale. But police have emphasized that not all of the slayings have been in Maryvale and warn that the killer is highly mobile. He has been spotted in at least two different vehicles — a black, boxy, four-door BMW (possibly late 1990s or early 2000s 5 series) — and a white Cadillac or Lincoln sedan.
Two people were shot and wounded in March, two were killed in April, and five in June. The shooting on June 12 clinched it for police. That night, Stefanie Ellis, 33, her daughter, Maleah, 12, and Angela Linner, 31, were shot and killed as they were listening to music in a car parked in a driveway. Howard said that's when police knew for certain they were dealing with a serial killer. Police released the news to the public about a week later. Some physical evidence has been recovered, including shell casings. For now, police are keeping most details under wraps.
On July 11, a man driving a black BMW who fit the suspect's description shot at a man and his 4-year-old nephew in broad daylight as they drove through a neighborhood near 30th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix. Five shell casings were recovered and the man's car was left riddled with bullets, but the occupants weren't hit. That was the last crime known to be linked to the serial killer. Other shootings have been investigated since then, but none appear to be his work.
Phoenix police have received about 1,500 tips from the community but they need more, Chief Yahner said. The high-profile news conference — the first of its kind since the serial-shooter case first made news in June — was intended to let the community know the authorities are working around the clock to catch the suspect before he strikes again, and to keep the issue fresh before the media and public.
"It's our number-one priority," Yahner said. "I'm asking our entire community to participate in this investigation."
"This ongoing serial-shooter case has created a tremendous amount of fear among residents throughout our entire city, and created a tremendous resolve to bring this killer to justice," Mayor Stanton said, emphasizing that "this evil person" wasn't just operating in Maryvale. "I want you to know that if you make that call to [the Silent Witness anonymous hotline], if you make that call to the Phoenix Police Department, you are doing the right thing."
Caputo said the FBI is "currently leveraging all of our resources ... to try to solve this case."
The FBI has brought in two specialists with its Behavioral Analysis Unit to provide "insight and assistance," Caputo said. "We'll continue to work tirelessly."
Montgomery promised that tipsters won't be turned over to immigration officials or charged with a crime if they come forward with information about the killing spree.
Serial killers like to brag about their acts, so someone probably knows who the killer is, Marshal Gonzales said.
It's impossible to tell at this stage whether the authorities are as desperate as they sound, or if they're attempting to goad the suspect into making a mistake.
Witnesses in at least one incident told police the suspect had other people in his car.
If that's true, said Sergeant Jonathan Howard, a Phoenix police spokesman, "They are equally in as much danger as any other citizen. We firmly believe this man is clearly unstable. He may even target them as potential witnesses."
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The admonition to leave a tip applies just as well to the people the killer knows, Howard said.
The public is asked to call the Arizona nonprofit Silent Witness at 480-948-6377 or 800-343-TIPS. Tipsters can also leave an anonymous message via the nonprofit's website, silentwitness.org.
Here are the incidents police have linked to the serial killer so far:
March 17, 11:30 p.m.: A 16-year-old boy was shot in the street near 1100 East Moreland Street. His injuries were not life-threatening.
March 18, 11:30 p.m.: A 21-year-old man was shot while standing in the street outside of his vehicle in the area of 4300 North 73rd Avenue. His injuries were not life-threatening.
April 1, 9 p.m.: Diego Verdugo-Sanchez was shot and killed in front of a home in the area of 5500 West Turney Avenue.
April 19, 4:30 a.m.: Krystal Annette White, 55, was found deceased in the area of 500 North 32nd Street.
June 3, 9:50 p.m.: Horacio De Jesus Pena was shot and killed in front of a home in the area of 6700 West Flower Street.
June 10, 9:30 p.m.: Manuel Castro Garcia killed in the area of 6500 West Coronado Road.
June 12, 2:35 a.m.: An unoccupied vehicle was shot and damaged in the area of 6200 West Mariposa Drive.
June 12, 3:00 a.m.: Angela Linner, Maleah Ellis, and Stefanie Ellis were shot and killed in front of a home in the area of 6300 West Berkeley Road.
July 11, 5:30 p.m.: A man and his nephew were shot at five times or more near Thomas Road and 30th Street while driving home from a coin laundry. They were unhurt.