CLUB DEADLY: Experts say those who attack and kill homeless people share many traits

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AURORA | It’s a club no one should belong to. When homeless are attacked, and especially when they are killed, experts say the attackers have a lot in common.

The attackers are usually young men in their late teens and early 20s, said Neil Donovan executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Often, they attack homeless for the thrill, and typically, their own living situation is precarious and very near homeless, Donovan said.

Lopez
Lopez

“They usually find somebody who is visibly less abled,” he said.

Based on court documents, the 21-year-old man accused of brutally killing a wheelchair-bound, homeless woman last month near East Colfax Avenue and Chambers Road fits that profile well.

Shawn Lopez, 21, was struggling to find a home when police say he killed Francine Reade last month. The day of the murder, April 25, Lopez was staying on a friend’s couch, having recently lost his own home, according to court documents.

And he told police he stabbed Reade in the throat just minutes after meeting her because he wanted to know how it felt.

Police said Lopez smiled as he told officers he used a knife to kill Reade because he liked the closeness involved in stabbing someone.

“I like knives, just because it takes a real crazy, sadistic mother f***er to walk up to somebody and just stab them. Because you’re up close and personal. And you know that you’re the last face that person is ever going to see in their pathetic little life,” he told detectives.

Details of Lopez’s confession are included in an arrest affidavit filed against Lopez’s roommate, Michael Snyder, 20. Snyder was arrested on accessory charges after police say he helped Lopez bleach the switch blade used to kill Reade. Investigators wrote in court documents that Snyder knew Lopez stabbed someone, but he didn’t know the person had died when he helped bleach the knife.

It’s not clear what role Reade’s homelessness played in her slaying, other than the fact that her being on the street, combined with her disability, likely made her an easy target.

According to court documents, Lopez never mentioned Reade’s living situation, and told police she was an “old lady” who he met in front of a liquor store a few minutes before deciding to kill her.

Police have said Reade was well-known in the neighborhood and had been homeless there for some time.

According to a 2012 report from the National Coalition on the Homeless, more than 1,184 homeless people were singled out and attacked because of their living situation from 1999 to 2010. Of those, 312 died.

Donovan said simply being homeless — and the lack of security it carries with it — makes people on the street especially vulnerable to crime.

“It is a very, very dangerous condition to remain unhoused,” he said.

At Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora, one of the few agencies in town that offers help to the homeless, spokesman James Gillespie said violence against the homeless is always a concern.

“It’s just a reality of street life,” he said.

Living on the street forces people into a survival mode, Gillespie said, and that combined with the isolation of being homeless and substance abuse issues that are always prevalent for people on the street can be a volatile mix.

“When you are out on own and are isolated, by yourself, it really can be dangerous,” he said.

Lopez is being held in the Adams County Jail without bond and is due in court in July. Snyder is due in court May 23.