The first time the gunman struck in Washington, he hovered over his victim and shot him three times as a train passed. The second time, prosecutors said, he shot the victim in the head, face, chest, thigh and buttocks, then sat on a curb playing loud music.
And the third time, he stabbed the victim several times, shot the man twice and set him on fire.
It was all part of a bizarre, unprovoked shooting spree targeting homeless men across two cities, Washington, D.C., and New York, that resulted in the deaths of two men and the wounding of three others.
Shell casings stamped with the letter “C” tied the shootings together, a tip gave police a name and cellphone tracing led investigators to a suspect: Gerald Brevard III. He was formally charged with first-degree murder Wednesday in Superior Court in Washington, where prosecutors said they were still gathering evidence to support additional charges.
Court documents released Wednesday outline a murderous rampage against helpless, immobile targets.
Under a photo of the suspect posted Monday on his Instagram account, and uncovered by the police, is the legend, “Feeling Devilish, Feeling Godly.”
In court, a federal prosecutor described a “disturbing escalation of violent behavior.” The prosecutor, Sarah Santiago, an assistant United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the attacks were all the more disturbing because they targeted those “who are vulnerable because they live on the street.”
Magistrate Judge Tanya Jones Bosier ordered Brevard held during the hearing Wednesday after noting that he had skipped a criminal trial in Maryland last month and rejected mental health services offered during a previous case in Washington.
He is on probation in an assault and battery case in Virginia, prosecutors said, and was arrested in Washington in 2019 on charges of attempted assault with a knife. In 2014 he was arrested on a robbery charge in Maryland.
The shooting spree that he is now charged with began March 3 in Washington and ended nine days later in New York.
The first victim said that he was sleeping beneath an overpass in northeast Washington when he was awakened around 4:30 a.m. by a passing train, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday. When he opened his eyes, he said, he saw a man pointing a gun.
“Pop, pop,” he recalled the gun going off. He was shot twice in the lower back, though the bullets only grazed him. The man said he went to a friend’s house and bandaged his wounds before calling the police.
Police found two shell casings at the crime scene a week later and recovered surveillance video from a half-mile away showing a bald man dressed in black walking nearby about 90 minutes before the crime.
On March 8, Washington police, responding to reports of gunfire around 1:20 a.m., found the second victim at a homeless encampment near the corner of 17th and H Streets Northeast. He had been shot in the head, face, chest, thighs, buttocks and hand. The victim remains in the hospital.
A witness told police that he saw a man dressed in black fire one shot at the victim, who was sitting in a chair. The victim got up screaming and ran, and the gunman walked behind him. He fired three more shots, followed by two or three more, the witness said.
A security camera recorded the sound of a man screaming, “No, no, no” and “please don’t shoot” after the first shot. Minutes later, a camera recorded the suspect sitting on a curb one block away holding what appeared to be a cellphone and playing music.
The next morning, shortly before 3 a.m., a fire broke out at a homeless encampment. When it was put out, police discovered a mattress burned down to the springs and the body of a man later identified as Morgan Holmes, 54.
He was so badly burned that investigators did not see that he had been stabbed and shot, as an autopsy subsequently revealed. The next day, March 10, they found two shell casings and two folding knives among his possessions.
Investigators found surveillance video of the suspect walking to and from the area where the victim was later found. At one point, he appeared to try to pump gasoline into a cup.
After torching the victim, prosecutors said the gunman went to Union Station, where he used an ATM before disappearing onto a Metrorail train.
Officials have said they believe the same gunman surfaced March 12 in New York, where he is believed to have shot two homeless men sleeping on the streets of lower Manhattan, killing one. Brevard has not been charged in those cases.
After releasing a photo Monday of the suspect using the ATM, police received a tip from someone who knew Brevard and gave authorities his name, birth date and Instagram user name.
That led them to a photo posted on Brevard’s Instagram account March 10 in which he wore the same clothing as the suspect in the shootings.
Police traced a number they obtained for him to all five crime scenes, then back to Washington, where they found Brevard walking near a gas station in the Fairlawn neighborhood. He was taken into custody early Tuesday, wearing clothing that investigators had spotted in surveillance footage: black Puma sneakers, black joggers and a quilted black jacket.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.