Suspect arrested in attacks on San Diego homeless

Elliot Spagat
Associated Press

San Diego — A man who attacked four homeless people as they slept and set fire to some of the victims, killing two, was arrested in a string of violence that rattled San Diego’s transient community, authorities said.

A tip led investigators to Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, who was booked into jail Thursday night on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, police said.

San Diego police Capt. David Nisleit gave no further details on Padgett, who was caught in his hometown of suburban Chula Vista, or the tip that led to him. Authorities had not determined if the suspect was homeless himself, but they had searched homeless camps in Chula Vista, Nisleit said.

Padgett was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of setting fire to a friend as he slept, Chula Vista police told news station KGTV-TV. The friend was critically injured but survived the attack. Both men were homeless at the time, police said. It could not be clearly established how the case concluded.

The recent spate of early morning attacks targeted men sleeping alone and left San Diego’s homeless population on edge. Authorities have not released details of how they were killed, but two victims were set on fire.

Ron Shatto normally sleeps under a tarp stretched over two shopping carts but joined other transients in a small camp Wednesday night. He never closed his eyes.

“I don’t want to wake up on fire,” said Shatto, 51, who has been living in the streets since February 2015, most recently under a freeway bridge.

Before Padgett’s arrest, the region’s homeless population — an estimated 10,000 people — banded together at night.

“Strength in numbers,” Shatto said as he picked through trash bins on the outskirts of downtown.

The most recent attack left a 23-year-old man, whose name has not been released, in “grave condition” after he was set on fire downtown, Nisleit said. A witness pulled away a burning cloth that the attacker put on the victim before fleeing Wednesday.

The violence began Sunday, when police found the badly burned remains of Angelo De Nardo between Interstate 5 and some train tracks. The 53-year-old died before his body was set on fire.

The next day, officers responding to a 911 call found Manuel Mason, 61, who suffered life-threatening injuries to his upper torso and remained in critical condition Thursday. A few hours later, police discovered the body of Shawn Longley, 41, who bled from the upper torso and died.

Many heeded the advice of homeless advocates to sleep in groups and in populated, well-lit areas. Adrienne Handley, who has slept on the streets for the last three years, nudged closer to other tents after the killings began.

“We’ve got to watch each other’s backs,” Handley said Thursday at her small encampment next to a freeway ramp. “Right now, it’s safer that way.”