Winnipeg police release photos of person of interest in homicides targeting homeless
Police take rare step of issuing warning to homeless people after 2 men found dead
Winnipeg police have released photos of a person they want to talk to after two men were "brutally killed" in the city's downtown area, likely at the hands of the same person.
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The body of another man in his 40s was found close by at 6:30 p.m. in the alley behind 333 Portage Ave.
One of the victims was homeless, while police said the other spent a lot of time on the streets. Both had mental health and/or addiction issues, police said. Investigators believe both deaths are related and that one suspect is responsible.
Winnipeg police released the photos early Sunday afternoon.
"This male is in the area during the times of the homicides and he may have had contact with the victims and he could have very valuable information for us," said Sgt. John O'Donovan.
"There are a number of vulnerable persons on the streets of Winnipeg. When you're out and about, please pay particular attention to these people. They're often invisible, but make sure that they're safe and they're not being harassed by anybody."
O'Donovan added police are also looking for two other people, a man and a woman, who were in the Hargrave Street area between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Friday night. None of the persons of interest are considered suspects at this time.
Killings a wake-up call
Sel Burrows, a community organizer and head of a citizen watch group in the North Point Douglas area, said the killings should be considered a wake-up call for Winnipeggers.
"Absolutely horrible," said Burrows, adding that the killings are "un-Canadian."
"This is not what happens to vulnerable people in Canada."
Burrows said many vulnerable people don't have cellphones or internet access, so he'll be doing everything he can to notify people in his community to be safe.
Police are asking everyone who is homeless or spends time on the street to be careful, stay away from secluded areas and stick with others if possible.
"Please, people of Winnipeg, if you're out and about and you see something that doesn't sit right with you, call the police. Use your cell phone. If it's safe to do so ... take photos and get them to us. We will follow up on every lead," said O'Donovan.
"These vulnerable people are part of our community and it's all our responsibility to keep them safe."
Dan Maxson, director of operations at Siloam Mission, said he was saddened to hear someone is targeting street people, who rely on the shelter's services.
"My immediate thoughts went back to the fact that there are going to be families that are going to be devastated by this," said Maxson. "That dismay, that this, again happened in our community: that was kind of my first thought."
It's happened in other cities, but I didn't think Winnipeg would have this.- Dan Maxson, Siloam Mission
But Maxson also said he wasn't overly surprised by the killings either.
"This community is targeted for lots of reason," said Maxson. "This is the extreme end of the spectrum and it's really sad that it's come to this. It's happened in other cities, but I didn't think Winnipeg would have this."
He praised the police service's response to the incidents, adding he hopes investigators catch the suspect before anyone else gets hurt.
"Hats off to the police service for quickly jumping on that. They came by last night and gave a heads up to our shelter staff and we were able to pass that along to the shelter," said Maxsen."They've come by a couple times a day just to kind of check on things. The police service here has really stepped up their game and their interaction and they're working with the shelters."
A group of about 50 Winnipeggers gathered on Donald Street near Hargrave to hold a vigil for the two men Sunday night.
Anyone who may know about these deaths is asked to call Winnipeg's homicide unit at (204) 986-6508 or Crime Stoppers at (204) 786-TIPS (8477).
With files from Chris Glover