Phoenix serial killing suspect arrested in deaths of 9

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Maricopa County Sheriff's Department via AP

PHOENIX — A man was arrested Monday in a string of serial killings that rattled a Phoenix neighborhood last year, marking a major break in a case that involved nine deaths and a dozen separate shootings.

Aaron Juan Saucedo, 23, faces 26 felony counts of homicide, aggravated assault and drive-by-shooting, said Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.

Most of the killings by a gunman dubbed the Serial Shooter took place in a predominantly Latino neighborhood between August 2015 and July 2016.

The shooter used a handgun to stalk victims after dark, police have said, picking victims who were either outside of their homes or sitting in cars.

Saucedo had been arrested last month in connection with the August 2015 fatal shooting of a man who had a relationship with his mother, 61-year-old Raul Romero.

Authorities investigated him more closely and connected him to the serial killing case, which had largely stalled as leads and tips dried up.

Police say that after Romero’s killing, Saucedo struck again about four months later in killing 22-year-old Jesse Olivas, who was gunned down on New Year’s Day 2016 while standing in front of a home.

The suspect then went on a killing spree from March of last year through July, police said.

In the end, nine people were killed in 12 separate shootings. All of the killings were random except for the first one, Williams said.

She credited tips and tireless work by Phoenix police detectives and partner federal agencies for Saucedo’s arrest.

“Our hearts go out to the surviving families. Today we are closer to providing them the justice they deserve,” Williams said.

Police said the killings were unrelated to the 2015 freeway shootings that terrified Phoenix drivers.

But in a strange quirk, the Department of Public Safety said Saucedo’s gun from the killing of his mother’s friend had been test-fired as part of the freeway shooting probe.

The weapon was the same type used in the freeway shootings — a High-Point 9mm pistol — but authorities say Saucedo had nothing to do with that case.

The department said it did not conduct ballistics evidence on the gun and returned it to the pawn shop a few days later because investigators identified who they believed was the suspect in the freeway shootings case.

His case was ultimately thrown out however, but investigators still believe he’s the culprit.

Police did not provide a motivation or details about why they believe Saucedo opened fire. The Associated Press was unable to reach Saucedo’s public defender on Monday.

Police say Saucedo shot at two teenage boys on March 17, 2016, striking one of them in the arm. The suspect struck again the next day but didn’t kill anyone.

The next shooting didn’t happen until April 1, 2016, when 21-year-old Diego Verdugo-Sanchez was fatally shot in front of a house.

Police also have linked Saucedo to the April 19, 2016 death of 60-year-old Krystal White; the June 3, 2016, death of Horacio de Jesus Pena; and to the killings of two women, Angela Linner and Stefanie Ellis, and 12-year-old girl Maleah Ellis on June 12, 2016. He killed Manny Castro Garcia on June 10, 2016.

In the most recent attack on July 11, 2016, a 21-year-old man and his 4-year-old nephew escaped injury after the gunman shot at a vehicle they were sitting in.

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