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Crime

Tips From Public and Gun Evidence Helped Phoenix Police Catch Alleged Serial Killer

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Phoenix Police Department

It took 3,500 tips from the public and some old fashion police work by a team of dogged detectives to apprehend the suspect who allegedly sent Phoenix into a panic more than a year ago, murdering nine people during 12 random shootings.

Speaking to PEOPLE Tuesday morning, Phoenix police spokesman Jonathan Howard likens the year-long investigation that led to 23-year-old Aaron Saucedo’s arrest to assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

“We don’t need the whole puzzle — just give us the missing piece,” Howard tells PEOPLE. “As we got that missing piece, we were able to put the rest of the puzzle together.”

Howard would not reveal what the “missing piece” was, citing the ongoing investigation. But he said that the thousands of tips from the public were extremely important in solving the case — even if a very small percentage of them were usable.

“The tips that came in were not so specific that it had to come from someone who knew the whole case — they were general and vague in nature, but they were enough to push us in the right direction,” Howard says. “Many came in as, ‘My neighbor has a black BMW,’ or ‘My neighbor has dark hair and looks like the serial shooter.’ No one tip that came in gave us the whole puzzle, just tiny pieces that helped additional evidence come into view.”

A Break in the Case

Howard says that the first real break in the case came last month, when detectives allegedly discovered an evidentiary link between Saucedo and the 2015 slaying of his mother’s boyfriend, 61-year-old Raul Romero. After charging him with that homicide three weeks ago, a search of his residence turned up additional evidence — and several guns, Howard confirms.

“We have multiple guns that were used in these shootings,” Howard tells PEOPLE.

Saucedo, who has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the 2015 homicide, has been booked on 26 additional felony charges including murder related to the alleged serial street shootings, Howard says. He was already being held on $750,000 bond for the 2015 killing of his mother’s boyfriend.

Word of the charges first surfaced Monday. The arrest several comes months after Howard told PEOPLE there were no significant leads in the investigation.

Shootings Were Random, Say Cops

Police still believe all of the shootings were carried out at random. They allege Saucedo’s crime spree began on March 17, 2016, when a 16-year-old boy was shot and injured as he walked down a street.

The youngest of his alleged victims was 12-year-old Maleah Ellis, who was killed on June 12, 2016, with her mom, Stefanie Ellis, and family friend Angela Linner.

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All three were shot as they sat in a car listening to music outside their Maryvale home in Phoenix, according to police. Investigators allege Saucedo pulled up alongside the car and opened fire, hitting the victims more than 30 times.

Other victims cops believe were killed by Saucedo are Diego Verdugo-Sanchez and Krystal White, who were both gunned down in April of last year; and Horacio De Jesus Peña and Manuel Castro Garcia, who were fatally shot last June.

The last shootings in the alleged spree occurred on July 11, when someone opened fire on a 21-year-old man and a 4-year-old boy as they were sitting in a car, according to Phoenix police. The man and boy were not injured in the shooting and have not been identified.

“For the last year, I’ve been saying, ‘Hey — we need tips, because that is where the break in the case is going to come from,’ and that’s where it came from,” Howard reemphasizes. “This is a great example of the police doing the legwork, the community reporting its suspicions to police, and the media keeping the story going.”

Howard says that as the case got cold, “a lot of people probably gave up hope” detectives would ever make an arrest. But he says “the investigators never forgot about this case, and these guys just continued following up on leads. These detectives never stopped working.”

Saucedo will appear in court on the fresh charges on Tuesday afternoon.