Residents of Stockton, Calif., were able to rest easier after the weekend arrest of a man suspected of killing six men and injuring a woman in a series of shootings over a three-month period in northern California, the city’s mayor said Sunday.
Mayor Kevin Lincoln said he shed tears of relief when he was told the suspect who police say had been terrorizing Stockton since July was arrested around 2am on Saturday.
Wesley Brownlee was dressed in black, wearing a mask around his neck, carrying a handgun and “looking” for another potential victim when he was arrested while driving through the town of Central Valley, where five of the shootings took place, Police Chief Stanley McFadden told a news conference on Saturday.
“The city was able to sleep a little better last night,” Lincoln said Sunday morning. “No one in this city should have to walk around town looking over their shoulder in fear.”
The mayor credited Stockton residents calling hundreds of tips to investigators that ultimately led to the 43-year-old suspect’s arrest.
It was not immediately clear Sunday whether Brownlee, of Stockton, had an attorney to speak on his behalf. He was to be arrested on Tuesday for murder.
“This person did a lot of harm, caused a lot of trauma,” Lincoln said. “My prayer, my hope, as mayor, is that our community begins the process of healing from the serial killings.”
Police were looking for a man dressed in black who was filmed at several crime scenes in Stockton where five men were ambushed and shot between July 8 and September 27. Four were walking and one was in a parked car.
Police believe the same person was responsible for killing a man seventy miles away in Oakland in April 2021 and injuring a homeless woman in Stockton a week later.
Investigators said ballistics tests and video evidence were linked to the crimes. A police photo showed the black and gray weapon believed to have been carried by the suspect. It was apparently a semi-automatic handgun containing non-metallic materials.
At Saturday’s press conference, a minute’s silence was observed for the victims.
Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was killed in Oakland on April 10, 2021, and Natasha LaTour, 46, was shot in Stockton on April 16 of the same year but survived. The five men killed in Stockton this year were Paul Yaw, 35, who died on July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, died August 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, died August 30; Juan Cruz, 52, died September 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died Sept. 27.
Police said Brownlee had a criminal history and also allegedly lived in several towns near Stockton, but did not provide further details.
After receiving hundreds of tips, investigators located and monitored where Brownlee lived.
“Based on information received by the department and Stockton Crime Stoppers, we were able to identify a potential suspect,” McFadden said. “Our monitoring team followed this person while he was driving.”
Investigators observed his patterns and determined he was looking for another victim, the chief said.
“We are sure we have stopped another murder,” he said.
McFadden added that Brownlee was arrested after engaging in what appeared to be threatening behavior, including going to parks and dark places, stopping and looking around before continuing.
Investigators were still processing the evidence and trying to identify the motive for the attacks, police spokesman Officer Joseph Silva said on Sunday. Police said some victims were homeless, but not all. None were beaten or robbed, and the woman who survived said her attacker said nothing.
The police chief thanked various local, state and federal agencies that participated in the investigation, including the FBI, US Marshals and the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Local investigators had also worked with Chicago police to determine if the killings could be linked to two 2018 murders in that city’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Authorities said videos from suspects showed a man in black with a distinctive gait.
However, Chicago police said Friday there appeared to be no connection.