A homeless man went on a rampage in Lower Manhattan early Saturday morning, using a metal pipe to bludgeon to death four other homeless men, the police said, in a terrifying attack that jolted the neighborhood.
The police took a 24-year-old man into custody, and said the killings appeared to be random. A metal pipe about three feet long, identified as the murder weapon, was recovered.
A fifth victim was transported to the hospital with critical injuries, the police said.
All five homeless people were apparently sleeping when they were set upon.
At a news conference on Saturday morning, Michael Baldassano, the chief of Manhattan South detectives, said it did not appear that the attacks were planned.
“The motive appears to be, right now, just random attacks,” he said. “No one was targeted by race, age, anything of that nature.”
The authorities were alerted to the rampage by a 911 call at 1:50 a.m. Saturday, and responded to the area of East Broadway and the Bowery — around the border between Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
The attack began around 1:40 a.m., the police said, when a man with “severe trauma to the head” was discovered on the Bowery.
Shortly afterward, the police discovered another man, 49, with injuries to his head. He was taken to the hospital.
It appears that the first two victims were together when the attacker set upon them, a police official said.
Three other men were found with fatal injuries, the police said. The suspect was not immediately identified.
In New York City, population 8.5 million, nearly one in 121 New Yorkers is homeless, according to the Bowery Mission, an advocacy group. The Coalition for the Homeless put the number of homeless people in the city’s shelter system in August at 61,674, including 14,806 families with 21,802 children.
The city has experienced a steady rise in its homeless population, primarily because of a lack of affordable housing, the coalition says. “Compared to homeless families, homeless single adults have much higher rates of serious mental illness, addiction disorders and other severe health problems,” the group says.
Advocates say it is impossible to get a definitive count of the number of homeless people living on New York City streets, in the subways and in other public spaces, but it is thought to number in the thousands.
In 2016, amid signs that street homelessness was rising to epidemic levels, based on calls to the 311 emergency line, thousands of volunteers fanned out across the city to assess the crisis.
An annual count conducted in late January this year estimated that 3,588 people were living on the streets.
Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.