News & Politics

"Kicked, Set on fire, Beaten to Death": Shocking Rise of Violence Against America's Homeless

2009 was the deadliest year for hate crimes committed against homeless people.

Over the past eleven years, advocates and homeless shelter workers from around the country have received news reports of men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and even decapitated. Since 1999, the National Coalition for the Homeless has issued an annual report on hate crimes against the homeless. During this time, our network of advocates has tracked and 1,074 acts of violence committed by housed individuals, resulting in 291 deaths of homeless people and 783 victims of non-lethal violence in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.

With forty-three deaths, 2009 was the deadliest year for bias related crimes against the homeless population since 2000. The deaths are alarming when compared to the number of deaths determined to be hate crimes for all of the current protected classes.  Over the past eleven years, there are more than double the amount of homeless hate crime deaths than there are for all current protected classes. 

Bias-motivated hate crimes committed against homeless people are not isolated issues occurring once or twice a year. 

Profile of Homeless Victim

The most common victim of homeless hate crimes is a middle aged, homeless man. Between 1999 and 2009, on average, almost thirty eight percent of victims were
between the ages of forty and fifty and seventy percent of the victims are between the ages of forty and sixty.  In 2009, the homeless victim’s average age was forty-
five.  In addition to being predominantly middle-aged, a large majority (eighty-five percent) of victims were male. 

The Perpetrators

In contrast to the average victim, the most common perpetrators of homeless hate crimes are young men.  In the past eleven years, seventy-eight percent of the
perpetrators were under the age of twenty-five.  In 2009, nearly half of the accused/convicted perpetrators were under twenty years old.  The youngest known
perpetrator in 2009 was twelve.   Almost all (ninety- eight percent) of the perpetrators of homeless hate crimes in 2009 were male.

In 2009, the National Coalition for the Homeless compiled a total of one hundred seventeen homeless victims of violence who were attacked by non-homeless perpetrators.  Of the one hundred seventeen victims, seventy-four were not fatally injured however forty-three of the victims lost their lives.  Over the past eleven years, nearly one in four violent attacks on homeless individuals resulted in death, and in 2009, nearly one in every three resulted in death. 

Here are some of the cases:

Planned Murder of Homeless Man WOODSTOCK, ILLINIOS - January 19, 2009.

Twenty-four year-old Kyle Morgan was accused of the brutal murder of a twenty-eight year-old homeless man on January 19, 2009. Although the individual attack seemed random, Morgan had planned to attack a homeless man for some time. The homeless man died of multiple stab wounds and a collapsed lung. Morgan was captured after he left the murder weapon at the scene of the crime. Soon after an arrest warrant was issued for Morgan’s arrest, Morgan fled to Tennessee where he hit two pedestrians on the sidewalk when he attempted to flee from Tennessee State Troopers.

Homeless Man Killed By Head Injury SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - February 3, 2009.

Ross Stiles, forty-three, died at Cottage Hospital from a massive head injury, according to police. Stiles was a homeless man who lived in Santa Barbara. According to friends of the victim, they saw a man smash a beer bottle over Stiles’ head. The next day Stiles reported a head ache but did not report the assault. Doctors attempted to operate in order to reduce “massive swelling” in his brain but were too late. Friends of Stiles told police they saw two males confront Stiles, eventually smashing a bottle over his head before fleeing. Robert Evans, a friend of Stiles, lived/camped with Stiles for many years. “He was a real nice guy,” Evans said. Stiles suffered from severe depression and pain resulting from a disability. Santa Barbara closed his case in March but then reopened the case in May after the coroner’s report said Stiles died due to unknown blunt force trauma.

Teen Bragged About Killing Homeless Man   COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO – February 5, 2009.

David Doyle, fifty-five, was sleeping on a pedestrian bridge when Taylor Lane Gwaltney, nineteen, biked past him; Gwaltney later returning to kill Doyle, hitting him up to sixteen times with a skateboard.  Gwaltney, then, bragged to over a dozen other teens that he had “killed a bum”.  Doyle was a local dirt bike racer in the 70’s and 80’s and worked in Colorado Springs for years before recently becoming homeless.  Many community members and friends gathered together in honor of Doyle after his death.  Gwaltney was convicted of first-degree murder and received a mandatory life sentence without parole.    

Student Kills Homeless Man Based on Prejudice   HOUSTON, TEXAS - February 7, 2009.

A thirty-two year-old university student has been charged in the early morning killing of a forty-seven year-old homeless man named Joe Tall.  Jeremy Lee Pierce remains jailed after being formally charged with the shooting murder.  Joe Tall was found lying on a Metro bus bench with at least one bullet hole in his head on the University of Huston campus.  He was discovered by a student riding his bike to work when he noticed blood dripping from the victim.  The school has offered any video recordings from their 500 on-campus security cameras for use in the Huston Police Department investigation.  The murder of Tall is being referred to by investigators as a “thrill kill”.  Pierce was known by other students as an aggressive individual and is quoted as saying that the homeless are a “blight to society.”  

Two Homeless Men Attacked and One Murdered   SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - February 15, 2009.

Police believe four men were involved in an extremely aggressive assault on two homeless men.  One homeless man was able to escape the assailants with minimal injuries but Peter Azadian, fifty-seven, who had been living under a door frame in the area, later died at a hospital.  His death was caused by blunt force impacts.     

Homeless Women Murdered in Brutal Beatings   GALVESTON, TEXAS - February 20, 2009.

An inmate has been charged in connection with the murder of two homeless women.  The women were fifty-six and fifty-one years old and their bodies were found fifteen days apart, on February 5th and on February 20th, near vacant houses.  According to police, homeless people have been using the houses as refuge from the elements.  David Ray Williams, twenty-two years-old, allegedly murdered two women by beating them around their neck, face, and head.  The bodies of the women were discovered by children playing in the building and by an electric meter worker, respectively.  Police believe that the women were sexually assaulted based on the haggard condition of their clothing.  Patrols were increased in the area in the hopes of finding potential leads but the case broke when DNA evidence linking Williams to the murder was discovered.  

Vietnam Veteran Becomes Victim of Homeless Attack.   BRADENTON, FLORIDA - February 23, 2009.

Fifty-nine year-old Daniel Case, a Vietnam War Veteran, was killed while sleeping behind a local business. Upon his return to the United States, Case suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, constantly having night terrors and an inability to function out of depression and fear.  Case felt that his disrupting behavior was unfair to his wife and three children and decided to move to Florida for their own wellbeing.  He was attempting to find work in the factory industry, and was planning to get off the streets by living with one of his daughters.  Case had established a relationship with a local business and was allowed to sleep behind the building in return for custodial labor. He was attacked by Luis A. Rincon, seventeen, and Robert A. Ramirez, eighteen, who were both members of a local street gang; they severely beat him with a bat and golf club.  The attack seemed unprovoked, according to police.  Case was found dead in his lawn chair the following morning.  Rincon will serve a thirty year prison sentence for his part in Case’s death.  

Couple charged with killing homeless man   LAREDO, TEXAS – March 25, 2009.

Twenty one year old Cruz Ramos, Jr. and nineteen year old Priscilla Garcia-Solis were arrested in Laredo, Texas after Ramos admitted to murdering a twenty eight year old homeless victim. The couple had a verbal altercation with the victim but left without a physical incident. Later, the attackers returned to confront the homeless man, after collecting a wooden ax from Ramos’ home. Ramos then began to assault the victim with the wooden ax handle while Garcia-Solis violently kicked him. Police found the homeless victim dead in an abandoned building. The pair has been charged with felony murder. Ramos is serving a thirty year prison sentence for the crime, while Garcia-Solis awaits a trial.   

Man Left for Dead in Street   KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - April 1, 2009.

While waiting for a bus, a forty-seven year old homeless man was attacked by two teen males.  The attack was caught on surveillance camera, and investigated by the Kansas City Police.  The exact cause of the altercation is under investigation.  When the homeless man was punched, he collapsed into the street where he was run over by a car minutes later.  He was left in the street as his attackers fled, and later died in the hospital.   

Teen Charged with Murder of Homeless Man   HOLDEN HEIGHTS, FLORIDA - April 17, 2009.

The body of Ora James Light, a fifty-one year-old homeless man, was found under Interstate 4.  Light’s abandoned body was found with multiple stab wounds.  An eighteen year-old male, Tyler Sturdivant, originally denied any connection to Light but later admitted that he killed Light in self-defense.  

Homeless Man Beat to Death   TAMPA, FLORIDA - April 17, 2009.

Anthony Chatteron, forty, was killed by three men after a verbal argument.  Chatteron believed that the men had stolen from him.  Chatteron died at the scene after suffering from trauma to his upper body.  The men fled the scene and took off in a car with a female driver.  The police have not identified the suspects.  

Three Teens Kill Homeless Man   REDDING, CALIFORNIA - April 18, 2009.

Three teenage boys are facing murder charges after they beat a local homeless man to death.  Using metal pipes and makeshift bats, the trio continually smashed the skull of Timothy Alcorn, forty-eight years-old, until he lost consciousness.  Albert Sanchez, eighteen, John Hadley Thompson, fifteen, and Jared Cory Voss, seventeen, then, attempted to hide the body under a bush on the outskirts of the forest.  Each of the boys will be tried as an adult in the case, though it is unclear if they will be issued separate trials.  One of the teens described the attack as liberating, stating that, “it felt good” to beat Alcorn.  He continued to say that he could not stop himself from striking Alcorn and was 90% sure that he had killed him.  The attacks were clearly premeditated and deliberate as the teens met earlier in the day at a local fast food restaurant where the plan to “kick a bum’s ass” came to fruition.  Deputy District Attorney Stew Jankowitz referred to the three teens as a “roving pack of predators.” Two of the three teens have pled not guilty to the charges.  

Homeless Man in Wheelchair Found Dead    SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - April 23, 2009.

Allan McKibben was a homeless man in a wheelchair. He was found dead by a train station, without his prosthetic leg. His face had been scratched and his tongue was severely bitten. Besides that, McKibben also had injuries to his collarbone and spine. Advocates believe that the circumstances of McKibben’s death indicate foul play; however, officials believe that some of his injuries may have been sustained before his death.     

Homeless Man Killed During Unprovoked Beating   KANKAKEE, ILLINIOS – April 27, 2009. 

Edwin D. Smith, twenty-nine, was found by two fishermen beaten to death in the Water Street Park.  Smith died from internal injuries in what police are considering an unprovoked beating.  Caleb L. Atteberry, thirty-two, was arrested the next day and has been charged with first-degree murder and two cases of aggravated battery in Smith’s death.  Atteberry is expected to plead guilty and be sentenced to 20 years in prison.  

Gang Members Murder Homeless Man   WATSONVILLE, CALIFORNIA - April 29, 2009.

Six gang members, aged twelve to nineteen, chased, beat, stabbed, and killed forty-four year-old Jose Marie Barajas.  The group had been harassing Barajas for two weeks before the night they murdered him.  The gang members beat him with bottles, sticks, and clubs before stabbing him three times. The six gang members were joined by Jose Carrillo, another homeless man, due to an unrelated dispute between him and Barajas.  The gang members were motivated by the location of the campsite where Barajas was a resident and leader.  It was located in their street gang turf.  

Homeless Man Murdered in Drunken Rage   EUGENE, OREGON - May 11, 2009.

Police in Eugene are investigating the death of homeless resident Herbert Taylor Bishop, fifty-six.  He was discovered in a wooded area with severe blood loss and head trauma.  Bishop, known to friends and residents as Pac-Man, is suspected to have been murdered by two men, Michael Andrew Baughman, twenty-two, and Ryan Eugene Casch, twenty-two.  The men viciously beat Pac-Man to death with blunt objects.  According to witness accounts the duo went into the park “looking for someone to beat up.”  Both men testified to attacking the Pac-Man in a drunken rage.  Each man received a twenty-five year sentence.  

Homeless People Targeted in Vicious Attacks   TRENTON, NEW JERSEY - May 14, 2009.

John Madden, fifty-eight, died after suffering a beating with a blunt object.  His body was found with severe trauma to his head and chest.  It was later identified that he sustained substantial brain bleeding and injuries to both sides of his head.  He was transported in an unconscious state to Capital Health Hospital but never awoke.  Police have identified that these types of injuries are consistent with assault, not a fall or accident.  Another man is recovering in a Philadelphia hospital after being set on fire.  While sleeping in a vacant structure, an unidentified man was burned when someone set his mattress on fire.  He also sustained lacerations to his face.  The motive behind the attacks remains unknown, but police presumed that the violence was directly related to the victims’ homelessness.    

Homeless Man Beaten to Death with a Rock   TULSA, OKLAHOMA - May 31, 2009.

Seventeen year-old Carlos Molina-Alvarez is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of a homeless man after repeatedly hitting him with a rock.  The homeless man, Karl Chilcoat, fifty-two, suffered a crushed skull from the multiple blows from the heavy object.  The attack seems to be unprovoked. Alvarez will stand trial as an adult.

Assault on Homeless Turns to Manslaughter   EUGENE, OREGON - June 28, 2009

A Eugene man suspected of carrying out an assault on a homeless person has been indicted on second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault charges after the homeless man died from a closed head injury. Gerald Wudarski, a fifty-three year old homeless man, wandered into Corey Freeman’s property looking for aluminum cans when Freeman confronted and chased Wudarski and another man down the street.  Freeman caught up with Wudarski and punched him in the head.  Police were called by a neighbor and cited Wudarski with criminal trespassing.  He was inspected by paramedics and no serious injuries were found.  The last time Wudarski was seen alive is on a video surveillance tape taken shortly after 6 a.m. at a local laundry mat.  When employees found Wudarski unresponsive an hour later he was transported and later pronounced dead at a local hospital.  Freeman, twenty- eight, was sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide.

Homeless Man Left for Dead in Alley   MERIDIAN, MISSISSIPPI - June 29, 2009.

The body of homeless man David Caraway, fifty- two, was found in an alley behind a Hope Village Thrift Shop.  Upon initial review, physical evidence of a struggle was not apparent.  Once his body made it to the autopsy it was discovered that he had already been dead for two days.  Physicians determined that he died of internal bleeding as a result of blunt force trauma to his body. It was thus declared a homicide.  Five teens have been charged with the murder of Caraway, yet their motive for this gruesome act is still unknown.  The teens aged sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and nineteen were all arrested and charged with capital murder.  There does not seem to be a clear purpose for the attacks besides his housing status, as his possessions were not taken.    

Homicide Detectives Investigate Body of Burned Homeless Man   LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - July 2, 2009.

Los Angeles police are investigating the suspicious death of a homeless man who was found with burns marks on his upper body and face.  Investigators are trying to determine whether the man suffered the burns before or after his death.  Locals say the homeless man was a frequent resident of the area.      

Friends and Family of Homeless Man Left Mourning   BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA - July 7, 2009.

John “Jack” Reil, fifty-eight, died leaving many of his family and friends devastated.  “Nicest guy in the world,” and “Angel,” were just a few of the words used to described Reil.  He worked for twenty years for the same company as a fork lift operator before he succumbed to his alcoholism.  He lived with other homeless people in a “canal town” where his absence will be felt most.  According to his former “roommates,” homeless beatings are common.  They report “kids” come to hate and steal from the homeless.    Reil was found stabbed multiple times in an apartment complex parking lot, according to police.  Jamal Smith, twenty-three, has been arrested after he allegedly admitted to stabbing Reil fourteen times. He is being held on $5 million dollars bail.  

Homeless Man Brutally Beaten to Death ANCHORAGE, ALASKA - July 12, 2009.

Two boys, Marc Ewing and Lawrence Lobdell, both eighteen, were charged with second-degree murder after stomping a homeless man to death.  It was discovered that they were drunk and high on marijuana.  According to police reports, they were craving food and liquor when they assaulted the man.  While walking through a park with a female companion, they came across James Lockery, thirty-seven, a homeless man, trying to sleep.  The duo attacked the sleeping Lockery and stole his belongings.  Lockery had seven dollars and a case of beer.  

Homeless Man Killed   OCOEE, FLORIDA - July 22, 2009.

Two teenagers were riding their ATV’s one day when they came across the tent of thirty year-old Joel Boner.  The teenagers, Hawthorne and Milner, both nineteen years-old, knew that this man was a homeless member of the community.  They demanded that he leave the park where he slept.  It is believed that Boner came out of his tent and told the teens that he would not leave.  This caused Hawthorne and Boner to get into a physical fight, which ended up with Boner being stabbed fifteen times in the back and once in the front.  The teens then took pictures of Hawthorne flexing without a shirt on and with a camera phone.  The teen left the homeless man bleeding and asking for help at the scene.  Hawthorne is being charged with murder.  In July of 2010, a jury found Hawthorne guilty of second-degree murder.  In August of 2010, he was sentenced to thirty-eight years in prison.  

Homeless Man Killed by Fifteen Year-Old Teen   RENO, NEVADA - July 22, 2009.

Eric Burkhart, fifty-five, was beaten, stomped, and kicked to death at his homeless camp.  James Pineda, fifteen, and his aunt Cheryl McFarland, who was currently homeless herself, showed up at the camp in the middle of the night to collect money Burkhart owed them for a speaker that he had damaged when he had urinated on them two weeks before.  Burkhart had already given Pineda twenty dollars for the speakers and on the night of his murder Pineda and McFarland took six dollars, a portable radio, and some cigarettes from him.  Burkhart was found dead with wounds on his face, chest, and groin.  Pineda pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and faces prison time of ten years to life.    

Four Stabbings on Sunset Boulevard    HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - August 6, 2009.

Four homeless men were stabbed by fifty- three year-old Domingo Rodas.  Police are continuing to investigate the motive behind Rodas’ stabbing spree.  The only immediate connection between the victims appears to be their homelessness.  All four victims were taken to the hospital.  Unfortunately, two men died as a result of their injuries.  Keith Falin, forty-three, and Roger Cota, fifty-three, succumb to multiple stab wounds.  The other two men, forty-four and fifty-one years old, are listed in stable condition.    

Homeless Man Murdered by Polish Citizen  MONSEY, NEW YORK- August 9, 2009.

Mariusz Lopata, a twenty year-old Polish citizen, was arrested and charged with the murder of a fifty-four year-old homeless man on the night that he was to return to Poland.  Lopata faced second-degree murder charges and was held without bail.  Judge Schoenberger refused to release Lopata due to the severity of the offence and because he had plans to leave the country.  Medical examiners have determined that the victim died of multiple injuries including facial fractures and internal bleeding caused by repeated punches and kicks.        

Homeless Brutality   LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - August 14, 2009.

Forty-one year-old James Mendola was found badly beaten and dead near a Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada.   He is the fourth homeless person to have been found murdered in many months according to Metro Police.  Police have arrested Steven Montoya, forty-six, who is accused of punching and kicking Minnich who was begging for money.  Linda Lera-Randle El, director of “Straight from the Streets” said, “There is definitely fear among them because it is a lot of looking over your shoulder or looking over your back.”    

Homeless Man Stabbed to Death   EUGENE, OREGON - August 25, 2009.

Lloyd Austin IV, thirty, plead not guilty to the murder of James David Pelfrey, thirty-six.  Pelfrey was found stabbed to death in the park.  A grand jury indicted Gannon in connection with the stabbing and well as other misdemeanor charges including carrying a concealed weapon, escaping arrest, and attempted unlawful entry of a motor vehicle.  On August 18, 2010, a judge convicted Austin of murder and sentenced him to 25- years-to-life in prison.  

Three Accused of Preemptive Murder of Homeless Man   EDMOND, OKLAHOMA - October 18, 2009.

According to a court affidavit, an informant told police that Adam Mason, nineteen, had bragged about killing a homeless man and had been planning to do so for months.  In addition, several people reported to police that Mason cut off the finger of his homeless victim and was showed it off like a trophy.  According to court reports Mason gave the finger to nineteen year-old Heather Irene Parker who threw it away.  Morgan is charged with first-degree murder while Nikolas David Kerr, nineteen, and Heather Irene Parker have been charged with accessory after the fact.  The fifty-four year-old homeless man was known as “Bicycle Bob” throughout the community, because he was often seen riding his bike through the Oklahoma City suburb.  Police report that Mason, “was very excited and happy,” following the killing. Another homeless man was originally implicated in the crime, but charges were dismissed after the arrest of Mason, Parker, and Kerr.

Homeless man shot with high-powered rifle   NORTH LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – October 21, 2009.

Forty-six year old Jim Davis was walking along a busy intersection in North Little Rock, Arkansas when someone drove up and shot him with a high-powered rifle. Police still have no leads, no suspects, and no understanding of the motivation behind this brutal and senseless crime. Davis’ sister told reporters, “Maybe they say this is a homeless man on the street, somebody killed him, oh well and let it go.” However, detectives are determined not to “let it go” and continue to air the case every Wednesday night on the “THV 10:00 Difference,” a local television program in Little Rock featuring Arkansas’ cold cases. By mentioning the case every week, the family of Jim Davis and the North Little Rock police hope that someone who saw what happened that night at the intersection of Broadway and Locust streets will come forward with information.   

Man Murdered in Alley   SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - November 1, 2009.

Police have arrested a twenty-two year old man in connection to a vicious attack that killed a homeless man.  Wilber Adalid Rodriguez is being charged with the murder of a twenty-eight year-old homeless man, according to police.  A witness told police that he heard the victim say, “No, I’m sorry I offend you,” just before what sounded like someone being hit with a piece of wood several times.  The witness also reported hearing, “Don’t hit me anymore,” according to an affidavit.  Police were called to the scene but were unable to find the victim until the following morning.  Police report that the victim was stabbed at least thirteen times in the throat and stomach.  

Homeless Man Shot to Death in Park   NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - November 3, 2009.

While sleeping in a tent, Edward Matthews, forty-six, was fatally shot in the head.  It is thought that the perpetrator may be the same individual who shot another homeless man, sixty, in the mouth eight months earlier.  Both attacks appeared unprovoked and occurred in the early morning hours.  

Security Guard Helps Solve Homeless Murder   POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA - December 12, 2009.

Police are hailing a Pompano Beach security guard who provided “crucial” information required to capture seventeen year-old gunman Harry Velez after he shot two men, killing one.  Eustoquio Lopez, forty-six, was killed after he was shot in the neck.  Velez has been charged with first-degree murder while his accomplice, Brady John Fisher, nineteen, has been charged as an accessory after the fact according to officials.  Police say the young men intended to rob the homeless man who seemed like an easy target.    

Two Arrested After Homeless Murder TEXARKANA, ARKANSAS - December 19, 2009.

Two suspects have been arrested in the beating death of a homeless man.  Demetris Jordan, thirty-nine, and his seventeen year-old accomplice are in custody and charged with second-degree murder of a forty-nine year old homeless man named Jessie James Latham.  The pair allegedly beat the homeless man to death with blunt objects.  Police found the victim’s body behind an abandoned house.  No connection has been made between the parties as of yet.  

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