LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mourners wept and placed flowers Saturday at the scene of the latest stabbing death of a homeless man in Orange County, and people who knew the victim said he had feared for his safety as police recently sought a serial killer suspected in the slayings.
Police detained Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, in connection with Friday night's killing in Anaheim but investigators didn't say if there were any links between that killing and the deaths of three other homeless men.
Friday's victim, described by friends as a Vietnam War veteran in his 60s named John, was found between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the parking lot of a Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant at the intersection of La Palma Avenue and Imperial Highway in Anaheim, police said.
Marilyn Holland, an Anaheim resident who befriended the victim and regularly brought him oatmeal raisin cookies, said he was uncharacteristically nervous since police warned him to stay vigilant in the days after the killings began.
"He told me he thought he was being followed," Holland said. "I told him after pay day I was going to get him a cell phone, so he could call 911 if anything happened. Normally he would refuse help but he was willing to accept the phone because he was scared." Holland was paid Friday but never got the phone to her friend.
Several witnesses reported an assault in progress, and officers arrived to find the homeless man dead near a trash bin in the restaurant parking lot. Witnesses followed a man who ran from the lot and led police to him, Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn said.
"We were having dinner in the area and saw about 40 police cars scream into the parking lot. I ran over and hugged my friend, screaming, 'Please tell me it's not John!' But it was," Holland said, fighting back tears.
Police set up a large containment area at the crime scene in a search for the killer and scoured nearby neighborhoods, including a mobile home park, Dunn said.
Ocampo, of nearby Yorba Linda, was held without bail for suspicion of murder, Dunn said.
A police bloodhound later traced the scent from Ocampo's belongings back to the scene where the attack occurred, about 10 miles northeast of the Disneyland Resort, authorities said.
A task force of law enforcement officers from Anaheim, Placentia, Brea, Orange County Sheriff's Department and the FBI was formed to investigate the killings of three other homeless men found stabbed to death in north Orange County since mid-December.
James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was killed near a shopping center in Placentia on Dec. 20; Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found near a riverbed trail in Anaheim on Dec. 28; and Paulus Smit, 57, was killed outside a Yorba Linda library on Dec. 30.
Police suspect all three were victims of a serial killer. It was not known if the latest death was connected to the other killings, but the task force is investigating any possible links.
Authorities declined to speculate if Ocampo was behind the earlier homeless slayings, but Anaheim Deputy Chief Craig Hunter acknowledged that "in a very general sense" he matched the physical description of a person suspected in the killings.
Police had released grainy photographs captured from surveillance video that show a male suspect dressed in dark clothing. A white, late-model Toyota Corolla was also a vehicle of interest.
Authorities planned an afternoon press conference to discuss the details of the case and the arrest.
"We're hopeful that they've got the right guy," said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, which provides services for the homeless in Orange County. "But until we know if the right person was arrested, we will maintain our vigilance to ensure safety. We are still calling on people who are living out on the streets to come inside tonight."
Haynes said Mercy House shelters had stepped up security in recent weeks and would continue to do so until police say the threat is over.
Friends of the latest victim lit candles Saturday and made plans to start a fund to give the latest victim a proper burial. They described him as a kind, quiet man who chose a life on the streets.
"He never asked for anything. We'd offer him rooms but he lived the life of a homeless man," said Yvonne Miranda, who said the victim spent most of his time in the parking lot where he was killed. "He was in his comfort zone. This is where he felt safe."
Police and advocates have been urging those living on the streets to head inside or buddy up in the wake of the killings.
Earlier Friday, the Orange County sheriff's deputies union announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.