Las Vegas homeless community on edge with a killer on the loose

Peter LaPrairie woke up Sunday morning after a night of cold winds whipped through his sleeping bag near the highway. He walked — maybe a mile — toward D Street, where tents and shopping carts were hemmed along a fence like a snowdrift of forgotten humanity.

Being homeless was not the life he planned. But there were things to be thankful for. Like the warm sun on his face.

"I’m not very social and like to be on my own," said LaPrairie, 46, standing outside a used tire shop Sunday morning. "But right now, that’s not an option. I try to find more public places to sleep. And I don’t sleep alone."

Two men were already dead and another wounded — all homeless in a small area a couple of miles north of downtown Las Vegas. All three were shot by the same 6-foot-man with the same revolver, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police said last week.

Capt. Robert Plummer said the killings were random. But it also appeared the killer was targeting the homeless, though not exclusively. A fourth victim was shot and wounded in the town of Logandale, about an hour outside of Las Vegas. He was not homeless — just alone.

Las Vegas police aren’t calling their suspect a serial killer, but they might as well. "If he’s not, he’s on his way to being one," Plummer said.

Capt. Robert Plummer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department speaks Feb. 6 about the recent shootings of homeless men in Las Vegas. (Michael Quine / Associated Press)

Serial killings usually involve a "cooling off" period between attacks. The first two shootings — in Las Vegas and Logandale — were Jan. 29. The next two were four days later on Feb. 2.

Police eventually used a mannequin — posing it as a sleeping homeless person over the summer — to lead them to Shane Schindler. He was caught beating the dummy, which he admitted he thought was a real person, and is now in state prison. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder for attacking the mannequin, and in a plea deal for a sentence of 8 to 20 years, was not charged in the slayings of the two men.

"There is fear on the streets," Hicks said. "There is some sense of ‘here we go again.’ It’s evil."

It is the smallest city in the top 10, which also include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

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