Photo: Jeenah Moon, Associated Press
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NEW YORK — A homeless man wielding a metal pipe rampaged through New York City early Saturday attacking other homeless people who were sleeping, killing four and leaving a fifth with serious injuries, police said.
A 24-year-old suspect was arrested, and police recovered the weapon that was still in the suspect’s hands when he was detained, officials said.
“The motive appears to be, right now, just random attacks,” Chief of Manhattan South Detectives Michael Baldassano said Saturday at a news conference, adding there was no evidence yet that the victims were “targeted by race, age, anything of that nature.”
The victims were attacked as they slept in doorways and sidewalks in Manhattan’s Chinatown area, which is usually congested during daylight hours but empties out at night.
Police responded to a 911 call just before 2 a.m. as one assault was in progress. They found one man dead in the street and a second with critical head injuries. A search of the neighborhood turned up two additional bodies.
The New York Post published photos of two of the victims under white sheets, one slumped in a blood-spattered doorway, the other on the sidewalk. The identities of the victims have not been released.
Two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity identified the suspect as Randy Rodriguez Santos. Police say the 24-year-old has been arrested at least a half-dozen other times in the past two years, three times on assault charges.
The lone known survivor of the attacks was hospitalized in critical condition. Police planned to question him as soon as possible, Baldassano said.
Another homeless man who had slept in the area, Stephen Miller, said he knew one of the victims as kind and quiet.
“No one knew him by name, but we saw him every day,” Miller said. “At this point, I’m just sad. This guy never did anything. Just had a life to live. It sucks that he’s out here in the rain and everything, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a life to live.”
New York City’s homeless population has grown to record levels over the past decade, and the homeless remain among the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over the past five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio began homeless outreach efforts early in his tenure in an attempt to move more people off the street and into shelters, but the program has faced challenges. City efforts to build more homeless shelters have been slowed due to neighborhood opposition.
De Blasio tweeted Saturday that he’s “stunned and horrified by this senseless act of violence against the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Verena Dobnik and Rebecca Gibian are Associated Press writers.