A 23-year-old Arizona man has been arrested in connection with street shootings that terrorized the Phoenix area over four months in 2016, police said Monday.
Aaron Saucedo, initially arrested April 19 for a fatal shooting in 2015, was re-booked Monday into a Maricopa County jail and now is facing 26 charges related to the serial street shootings that occurred from March to July 2016.
In making the announcement Monday afternoon, Police Chief Jeri Williams said at least two additional murders have been linked to the serial shooter, bringing the death toll to nine. And investigators recently added to the series an incident in August 2015 when shots were fired into a house but no one was hurt, bringing the total shootings to 12, The USA today reported.
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation and unconfirmed reports on the investigation. Tips from the community — about 3,300 in all — ultimately led police to Saucedo, Williams said.
“We hope that our community will rest a little easier and that our officers will get a little more sleep (knowing) that our wheels of justice are finally in motion at work,” she said.
Last month Saucedo was arrested and held on a $750,000 bond on suspicion of murdering 61-year-old Raul Romero in August 2015. Romero had been dating Saucedo’s mother at the time of his death.
Police on Monday linked Romero’s death what were dubbed the “Serial Street Shootings” at the time, as well as the shooting death of Jesse Olivas, 22, killed in a drive-by shooting Jan. 1, 2016.
But police now say Saucedo is responsible, at least in part, for more carnage than any other serial killer in the Valley of the Sun in more than a decade.
Unlike Romero, the rest of the victims seemed to be picked at random. They were visiting family, returning home from work, or lounging in their yards when a phantom assailant gunned them down.
Witnesses and surviving victims described a slender, young Hispanic man but couldn’t agree on a vehicle. Police said it was possible that the killer had access to multiple cars but circulated a stock photo of one vehicle a witness described in detail: a black BMW 5 series, late 1990s to early 2000s.
Police have not yet identified a motive but Sgt. Jonathan Howard, a Phoenix police spokesman, indicated that Saucedo has given at least some incriminating statements to police.
When asked why activity appeared to cease in July, Howard pointed to Phoenix police’s push in getting the description of the shooter and his vehicle out to the public. Saucedo then decided to change his appearance and stop driving his BMW, Howard said Saucedo told investigators.
A “wide host of evidence” linked Saucedo to the series of shootings, including ballistics, surveillance, witnesses and other forensic evidence, Howard said.
“It goes on and on,” he said, but did not divulge more details because the investigation is ongoing.
A $75,000 reward offered in the case will be given to the tipster or tipsters who led police to Saucedo, Howard said. They will remain anonymous through the city’s Silent Witness program.
The case is now in the hands of Maricopa County prosecutors, who will make the official charging decisions.
We will review all the evidence submitted to see which charges to charge the suspect with … to make sure we have a case that we will prosecute successfully and hold the individuals accountable for the harm made to the community,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton commended the Phoenix Police Department for “carefully and methodically” working the case.
“Our officers didn’t rest,” Stanton said. “Investigators worked every lead. They followed the evidence. They had a clear mission: Get the killer to justice and get it right.”
At the time of his arrest, Saucedo was living in the 4600 block of north 10th Street in Phoenix, according to court records. Two investigators were outside the home when Arizona Republic reporters showed up last month but would not confirm the reason for their presence.
Joe Guzman, a neighbor across the street, spoke briefly to Republic reporters that same day. He said he didn’t know Saucedo but was acquainted with his mother, Maria.
He remembered Aaron Saucedo speeding up and down the street and noted that, a few days earlier, police had seized Saucedo’s car.
It was a black BMW, he said.
Police said Saucedo sold a Hi-Point 9mm handgun to a pawn shop Sept. 1, 2015, 16 days after Romero was murdered. A new owner purchased the gun June 28, 2016.
If the gun were in the pawn shop for almost eight months, it would have been unavailable for most of the incidents tied to the serial shooter.
Arizona has few records on Saucedo, criminal or otherwise.
Neighbors said he had been living at the North 10th Street residence since he was a boy, and yearbook photos show he attended North High School in Phoenix his freshman and sophomore years. The yearbooks give no indications Saucedo participated in any high school clubs or activities.
A Phoenix Union district representative confirmed that Saucedo transferred to Central High School by his junior year but the district has no records for him after that. This could mean he dropped out or transferred to another district.
Saucedo’s lone footprint on the state’s criminal justice system before the Romero charge — a red-light ticket in September 2015 — provides one piece of his work history.
At the time, Saucedo was a public bus driver. A red-light photo of the incident shows a relaxed, 20-year-old Saucedo wearing neon green sunglasses and gripping the bus’ steering wheel.
The city of Phoenix does not directly employ bus drivers but instead contracts with two private companies, First Transit and Transdev.
In court records from Saucedo’s initial arrest April 19, Saucedo reported that he was employed full time working in “labor” at a company called Re-Bath. A Re-Bath representative said Saucedo worked at one of the temp agencies the kitchen and bathroom remodeler uses.
One of two victims who survived the serial shooter said investigators visited him last month to show him a photo lineup.
The victim, who was 21 at the time, said he didn’t really recognize anyone in the lineup but stressed that the shooting was more than a year ago. He said he “pointed out some things” that might help police.
“I really don’t care anymore, to be honest with you,” he said. The Arizona Republic is withholding this man’s identity because he is a crime victim.
Another victim whose car was shot at said police also visited him to show him a lineup. He also seemed uncertain about the suspect’s identity.
The victim said he pointed out more than one person in the photo lineup. But when The Republic showed him a picture of Saucedo, he said he didn’t think he was one of the men he picked.
Sylvia Ellis, the mother and grandmother of two of the victims, said just after Saucedo’s arrest last month that police had not contacted her family but did come to her house Monday morning.
“My mind is all over the place. My body is in shock,” Ellis said. “I’m trying to get myself together.”
Ellis lost two loved ones to the serial shooter: her daughter Stefanie Ellis and 12-year-old granddaughter, Maleah. Ellis said she was walking home Monday when she saw a patrol vehicle parked outside her home.
She recognized the detectives as they approached. They told her an arrest had been made.
“They said they couldn’t give me a lot of details as it’s still an active case,” Ellis said. “But they wanted me to find out from them and not the news. I know that when the right time comes for them to share more details they will.”
Ellis said she had never heard of the suspect before now. Her family didn’t know him either.
Frequents texts and calls came to the grieving mother and grandmother as family and friends quickly learned of the arrest. She was waiting for her husband, Dossie Ellis Sr., to get home to tell him the news.
“I’m not sure if he knows yet,” Syliva Ellis said, her voice cracking. “I’m sure he’ll be walking through the door any minute now.”
She also planned to make a call to Nancy Pena, the mother of another victim.
Pena had reached out to her during the summer. The two women have yet to meet in person, but they grieve the loss of their children together, often speaking on the phone, Ellis said.
Right now, I’ve got to collect all my feelings first,” she said, taking a deep breath.
The shooter struck 12 times between Aug. 12, 2015, and July 11, 2016, killing nine people and wounding two more. The first two shootings were within a 5-minute drive of Saucedo’s home; seven of the attacks were in the west Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale.
Three other attacks took place in east-central Phoenix. The third attack occurred south of Banner University Medical Center-Phoenix in a neighborhood just south of Interstate 10.
All of the shootings were in residential neighborhoods with predominantly Hispanic populations. Most residents of those neighborhoods speak Spanish as their first language.
Though police specifically underscored the BMW sedan, witnesses have described several cars, including a long white Cadillac or Lincoln; a dark Nissan Maxima or Chevrolet Malibu; a light-colored four-door car; and a dark car with “triangle-shaped” headlights.