YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) — The 23-year-old man suspected in the serial killings of four homeless men in Southern California is a former Marine who became isolated after returning from Iraq and never got over the death of his best friend in Afghanistan, his brother and a friend said Sunday.
Itzcoatl Ocampo was a fun-loving teen who liked to hit on girls when he joined the military. But after he was discharged and returned home he kept to himself, trusted no one and drank a lot, they said in interviews with The Associated Press.
"He came back from the war and was never the same," said Brian Doyle, 23, a friend from high school.
Ocampo's little brother, Mixcoatl, 17, said investigators who came to the family home seized his own computer — his brother did not have one. They also took the gift his brother gave him for Christmas, a DVD box set of the 2008 HBO series "Generation Kill," the story of a reporter embedded with a Marine battalion during the invasion of Iraq.
Itzcoatl Ocampo was arrested Friday night after a locally known homeless man, John Berry, 64, was stabbed to death outside an Anaheim fast-food restaurant. Bystanders gave chase, and a police officer who was part of a perimeter set up in response to 911 calls made the arrest.
Anaheim Police Chief John Welter has said investigators are confident they have the man responsible for the string of murders that struck fear into Orange County's homeless since Dec. 20. Prosecutors have yet to file charges, and authorities have provided no information on evidence against Ocampo, or a possible motive.
Ocampo has been living with his uncle, mother, brother and sister in a small rented house on a horse ranch property three miles from the Carl's Jr. restaurant where Berry was killed.
At the humble home, his mother, who does not speak English, tearfully brought her son's Marine Corps dress uniform out of a closet and showed unit photos, citations and medals from his military service.
Mixcoatl Ocampo said his brother followed a friend into the Marine Corps in 2006 and went to Iraq, where he apparently was not involved in combat, and was honorably discharged in June 2010.
That same month, Itzcoatl Ocampo's friend Cpl. Claudio Patino IV, 22, of Yorba Linda, was killed in combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
"He took that really hard," said Mixcoatl Ocampo. "Once he received the news, he was never the same."
Mixcoatl Ocampo said his brother visited Patino's grave twice a week.
Doyle had difficulty describing the change he saw in his friend from high school.
"He went from being a tall, geeky kid, really fun-loving ... " he said, trailing off.
Doyle said he once offered his friend a self-help book based on Eastern philosophy that he had found useful but Itzcoatl Ocampo rejected it.
Doyle said he tried to find out what was going on with his friend but didn't press it, never imagining something like the serial killings.
"Everyone's got their issues, you know?" he said.
In addition to Berry, 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.