A motive for the attacks remains unclear, according to officials

By Chris Harris
Updated July 20, 2016 03:45 PM

San Diego police believe they have caught the man behind a series of fatal fire attacks on the city’s homeless, PEOPLE confirms.

Officials tell PEOPLE that Jon David Guerrero, 39, has been charged with three counts of murder and two counts of premeditated attempted murder, along with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murder, in connection with five attacks on homeless men beginning in early July.

Investigators allege that Guerrero set the men ablaze after dousing them with gasoline. Police say he was detained on Friday after a San Diego patrol officer allegedly noticed him in the Park West section of the city, soon after the most recent attack.

Police arrested Guerrero after, they allege, several pieces of physical evidence were recovered from the scene of Friday’s attack and from his home.

Officials say a motive for the attacks remains unclear.

Police allege Guerrero assaulted his victims as they slept on the city’s streets and under its bridges. Three of the victims have died from their burns, officials said, meaning Guerrero could face the death penalty. Two of the victims are expected to survive.

The district attorney’s office has yet to make a decision about seeking the death penalty.

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Guerrero did not enter a plea during his first court appearance, a court official tells PEOPLE. His public defender, Dan Tandon, said in a statement that “San Diego deserves to know the whole story,” noting “the story started long before the first loss of life.”

Tandon added: “There are many twists and turns a case can take. We’re just beginning the process of gathering the information so the whole story, including Jon’s, can be known, and we hope the people of San Diego get the whole story before any judgement is passed on Jon.”

Police previously arrested another man in connection with the homeless attacks, but he was released within days and was never charged.

Timeline of the Attacks

Police tell PEOPLE the attacks started July 3, when the burning body of Angelo De Nardo, 53, was found in the Bay Park neighborhood. Eyewitnesses to that incident told police they remember seeing a man running across the freeway with a gas can.

Shawn Mitchell Longley, 41, was discovered dead the next day in Ocean Beach. Later on that same day, Manuel Mason, 61, was left with serious wounds after an attack in the Midway district.

Then, on July 6, someone threw a flaming towel on top of Dionicio Derek Vahidy, 23. He died in a hospital four days later.

The latest attack was reported early Friday morning, when two San Diego Harbor police officers heard someone calling for help in the East Village. They stopped to inspect the noise, finding a 55-year-old homeless man who’d sustained several serious wounds to the upper body.

The fifth victim has not been identified.