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Tip leads to arrest in serial killings of homeless men in San Diego

San Diego police have arrested a 36-year-old man suspected of deadly attacks on sleeping homeless men, some of whom were set on fire.

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    San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about the urgency of finding the suspect believed to have killed several homeless people and injuring several others in downtown San Diego at a news conference Wednesday. Police arrested a suspect in the killings on Thursday night.
    Lenny Ignelzi/AP
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A tip led San Diego police to a man suspected of deadly attacks on sleeping homeless men, which left two of them dead and two severely injured, and left the city's homeless community on edge.

On Thursday night police arrested 36-year-old Anthony Alexander Padgett in connection with the murder and attempted murder of the sleeping men, some of whom were set on fire, police said.

Since the attacks began over the weekend, city officials had implored the public for assistance in bringing justice for the victims and peace of mind for the hundreds of homeless people living on the streets of San Diego.

"Our city has been shaken by these gruesome attacks. The last few days have been particularly harrowing and emotional for those who struggle with homelessness," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. "I want to make it very clear that the San Diego Police Department is working around the clock to find this killer and bring justice for these victims." 

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman told reporters the murders were the most vicious she had seen in her 34-year law-enforcement career.

"This killer has targeted some of our community's most vulnerable citizens while they are asleep," Chief Zimmerman said.

The string of attacks began on Sunday and targeted men who were sleeping alone in the early morning hours, with two of them set on fire.

Police found the badly burned remains of Angelo De Nardo on Sunday near some train tracks. The 53-year-old died before his body was set on fire, according to reports.

Responding to a 911 call the next day, police found 61-year-old Manuel Mason. Mr. Mason suffered life-threatening injuries to his upper torso and was in critical condition Thursday. A few hours after police found Mason, they found the body of Shawn Longley, 41. He had bled from the upper torso and died before police arrived.

A fourth, unidentified man, who is 23, was in "grave condition" Thursday, according to San Diego Police Capt. David Nisleit. He had been set on fire one day earlier in the city's downtown. A witness pulled away a burning cloth that the attacker put on the victim before fleeing.

A tip led investigators to Mr. Padgett, who was born in the suburb of Chula Vista and was arrested there. Police said the investigation is in its early stages, and gave no details on the suspect or the tip that led to him.

It is unclear whether Padgett is homeless, though police said they searched homeless camps in Chula Vista in their investigation.

Padgett was arrested in 2010 in Chula Vista on suspicion of setting fire to a friend while he slept. Both men were homeless at the time, police said. Padgett’s friend was critically injured, but survived the attack.

This report uses material from the Associated Press.

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