San Diego Homeless Killings: Suspect's mother says they have the - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego Homeless Killings: Suspect's mother says they have the wrong guy

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Police Friday arrested a man they believe to be the "disturbed murderer" who carried out a recent series of assaults that left three homeless men fatally wounded and two others clinging to life in various San Diego neighborhoods.

A patrol officer spotted Jon David Guerrero, 39, riding a bicycle in the 500 block of West Laurel Street in the Park West area about 5:30 a.m., determined he matched the description of the perpetrator of the two-week spate of deadly violence and took him into custody without incident, according to police.

"We can all rest a little easier tonight, knowing this predator is off our streets," SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said during a mid-afternoon briefing on the series of attacks, during which the victims were brutalized -- two of them set on fire -- as they slept on roadsides, in open areas and under freeway bridges.

Though another man was jailed in the case last week, then released days later when additional evidence cleared him, Zimmerman told reporters she "firmly" believed Guerrero was the person "responsible for these vicious crimes."

"I say that with complete confidence after receiving a thorough briefing from our homicide unit and fully understanding the significant amount of physical evidence they have collected to date, and throughout this entire investigation," Zimmerman said.

Guerrero's mother, Kathleen, says her son suffers from mental illness and challenges what Zimmerman said.

Speaking to CBS News 8 at her home Friday evening, she said: 

"I think they must have the wrong person. They have to, because that is not what he's like. He is not a violent person. He has always been kind, courteous and polite. He is not an aggressive person. And this just has stumped us. This is unbelievable. It's just unbelievable." 

Kevin Olenick, who's a former neighbor of Guerrero's parents in Bay Park, has known Guerrero for about 12 years. He says he was never violent, but did exhibit bizarre behavior when off his meds.

"He would walk down the street with squirt guns and a jock strap on his head--just kind of weird stuff. I don't hold anything against David, I feel bad for the guy, because this is one of those mental challenges. He is not an aggressive kid, he's not a mean kid," Olenick said. 

RELATED: Homeless Killings: SDPD release composite sketch of suspect

Mayor Kevin Faulconer praised Zimmerman's staff for its "tireless" and "around-the-clock" efforts to catch the assailant.

"I can tell you, our police department did not rest," he said. "This was a day-and-night operation."

The mayor said city officials were intent on securing justice for the victims of the serial killer.

"Angelo De Nardo, Shawn Mitchell Longley (and) Dionicio Derek Vahidy were all innocent victims whose lives were cut short by a disturbed murderer," Faulconer said.

Guerrero, a Coronado native who most recently has lived in downtown San Diego, was booked into county jail on suspicion of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. He was being held without bail, with arraignment scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

The spree of assaults across the city has left San Diegans -- particularly those who live on the streets -- shaken and on edge since the Fourth of July weekend. Guerrero was captured about an hour after the most recent assault in the series came to light. Shortly after 4:30 a.m.., two San Diego Harbor Police officers heard someone yelling for help while driving along the 1800 block of C Street, underneath Interstate 5 in the East Village, SDPD Capt. David Nisleit said.

The personnel pulled over and found a 55-year-old homeless man suffering from "significant trauma" to his upper body, the captain said. Though badly injured, the victim, whose name has not been released, was expected to survive.

The suspect was arrested about two miles from the site of the assault.

The first attack in the series occurred July 3. About 8 a.m. that day, the burning body of De Nardo, 53, was found underneath an I-5 offramp near the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park. Witnesses to the disturbing scene described seeing a man running across the freeway near Claremont Drive, carrying a gas can.

The following day, Longley, 41, was found dead at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach, and 61-year-old transient Manuel Mason was severely wounded near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district, according to police.

On the morning of July 6, Vahidy, 23, was gravely wounded in downtown San Diego by an assailant who fled after leaving a towel burning on top of him. Vahidy died in a hospital four days later.

Authorities have not released the victims' causes of death or disclosed a suspected motive for the violence. There are no indications that the suspect knew the victims, according to police.

During this afternoon's news conference at downtown SDPD headquarters, Nisleit expanded on Zimmerman's assurances that the right man was in custody in the case.

"Today, detectives discovered physical evidence at the scene (of the latest assault) and at the suspect's residence that definitively and uniquely links together the recent murders and brutal attacks against our homeless community," the captain said.

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