Suspect in California serial killings may have used ghost gun, police say – CBS News

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A suspect in the killings of three men — who police have said were among six victims of a serial killer in Northern California — may have used a firearm without a serial number, also known as a ghost gun, authorities said.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, was arrested on Oct. 15 in Stockton, California. Police had been conducting surveillance on him as he drove through the streets of Stockton early that morning, and officials said he was armed with a handgun and may have been “out hunting” for another victim when he was arrested.
Brownlee was charged Tuesday with three counts of murder, one count of a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of possession of ammunition. He is also under investigation in connection with the fatal shootings of three other men and the wounding of a woman dating back to April 2021.
Six of the shootings occurred in Stockton, and the seventh in Oakland.
A convicted drug offender, Brownlee was barred from owning a gun and he allegedly “used a ghost gun” to carry out the slayings, Stockton police department spokesperson Joseph Silva told the San Francisco Chronicle Thursday.
When announcing the charges against Brownlee Tuesday, San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said Brownlee was in possession of a “polymer” gun when police arrested him.
Salazar confirmed that all seven shootings have been connected through ballistics, but that the investigation is still in its early stages.
“We’re waiting for additional evidence to be processed through that will most likely, we believe, allow us to add those additional charges,” Salazar said.
Generally, firearms manufactured by licensed companies are required to have serial numbers — usually displayed on the frame of the gun — that allow officials to trace the gun back to the manufacturer, the firearms dealer and original purchaser.
Ghost guns are often assembled from parts of several weapons, and can be difficult to trace. Some are sold in do-it-yourself kits and the receivers are typically made from metal or polymer.
In April, the Biden administration announced new regulations in which manufacturers of ghost gun assembly kits are required to include serial numbers with them. Sellers also must be federally licensed, run background checks before selling a homemade gun kit and keep records of the purchases for as long as they are in business. The regulations took effect in August.
Brownlee is a truck driver who moved to Stockton this past summer, Salazar told reporters Tuesday, adding that “he has some family in the community, not very many.”
The five men killed in Stockton this year were Paul Yaw, 35, who died July 8; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who died Aug. 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who died Aug. 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who died Sept. 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died Sept. 27.
Juan Vasquez Serrano, 39, was killed in Oakland on April 10, 2021.
Natasha LaTour, 46, was shot in Stockton on April 16, 2021, but survived.
The criminal complaint filed Tuesday only lists charges for the killings of Rodriguez, Cruz and Lopez.
Brownlee is scheduled to return to court on Nov. 14 for further arraignment. The judge has assigned a public defender. The public defender’s office has not returned a message seeking comment.
First published on October 21, 2022 / 6:20 PM
© 2022 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright ©2022 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved.

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