A 24-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder for beating four sleeping homeless men to death with a metal pipe in Manhattan, prosecutors say.
Randy Rodriguez Santos was charged with four counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree attempted murder on Sunday, according to a complaint filed with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
He was taken into custody Saturday morning, police and law enforcement sources said. Police said Santos was taken to Bellevue Hospital for evaluation before he was charged.
NYPD officers responding to a 911 call around 1:50 a.m. on Saturday found an unconscious man lying in the street with "severe head trauma" near 2 Bowery, Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, said at a news conference Saturday morning.
A second man with head trauma approached officers at the scene, Hughes said. Witnesses told the officers a man in a black jacket and black pants struck the unconscious victim in the head with a metal pipe several times before fleeing the scene.
The conscious man was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition, according to Hughes. The unconscious man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officers canvassing the area found Santos carrying a metal pipe near Mulberry Street and Canal Street soon after, Hughes said. He was taken into custody "with no further incident," according to Hughes.
The pipe was covered with "fresh blood and hair," according to Santos' criminal complaint.
Police found three other victims on East Broadway not long after. All of the men had severe head trauma and were pronounced dead at the scene, Hughes said.
All of the attacks were caught on surveillance video and took place between around 1:30 a.m. and 1:50 a.m. on Saturday, the complaint said. Prosecutors say Santos admitted he was the man seen in the video.
Police didn't immediately release the names or ages of the victims.
Santos didn't say anything as officials led him out of the 5th Precinct after he was charged, video shows. His court-appointed attorney declined to comment on Sunday.
Police officials told News 4 they believe Santos has a number of past arrests for assault, including one in May for an alleged assault at a Brooklyn homeless shelter.
Deputy Chief Michael Baldassano, the commanding officer of Manhattan South, said police believe all of the victims were sleeping when they were attacked.
The attacks appear to have been random, Baldassano said, but an investigation is ongoing.
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."
The suspect's mother, Fioraliza Rodriguez, 55, told the Daily News she had kicked him out about three years ago. He struggled with drugs, assaulted her and his grandfather, and stole from the family, she said.
"I never thought he would kill someone," she said. "I was afraid of him, though, because he punched me. That's when I told him to get out of my house."
Family members told the newspaper that Santos started using drugs when he arrived from their native Dominican Republic about four years ago. The article did not cite a specific drug.
"When I told him to leave, he came back and threatened me," the suspect's mother said. "He said when I go back to Santo Domingo, he'll get people to cut my face."
New York City's homeless population has grown to record levels over the past decade, and the homeless remain among the most vulnerable residents. In the past five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched new 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 dragged due to neighborhood opposition.
De Blasio on Twitter said the city was "keeping the victims and their loved ones in our hearts today."
"We're stunned and horrified by this senseless act of violence against the most vulnerable members of our community," he said. "It flies in the face of the values of our city."