OC rescue mission workers distribute flashlights, whistles as serial killer runs loose

Corey Moore/KPCC

52-year-old David Deisher, who usually sleeps in the back of a building near the Orange County Civic Center, shines a flashlight that rescue mission workers gave him.

Orange County rescue mission workers yesterday handed out 200 safety kits — with flashlights and whistles — to homeless people in Santa Ana. They acted as authorities looked for a serial killer who apparently preys on men who sleep on the streets by themselves. Someone stabbed three homeless people to death in Orange County during the last two weeks. Some people say they’re prepared to take on an attacker.

Darryl Burris, 55, of south Los Angeles sleeps near the bustling OC Civic Center in the heart of Santa Ana.

“For some reason, I didn’t want to go to sleep, for some strange reason. I just had this feeling," he said.

It’s hard for Burris — who’s been homeless for six years — to describe his uneasiness at night while a serial killer walks the streets.

But here’s where Burris doesn’t mince words:

“I got God with me and I wish he would try me, ‘cause I'll take him. I ’m waitin‘ on it... that’s why I’ve been feeling weird,” he said.

Standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall, Burris appears to have a strong build. But many of the other men lying on the lawn in this area look older and weaker. Unlike Burris, they’d probably have a tough time protecting themselves from an attack.

That’s where the O.C. Rescue Mission comes in.

Every Thursday, homeless advocates drive their “chili-van” to this area and offer meals to dozens of people without a place to go.

Organizer Jim Palmer uses a bullhorn to describe to dozens of people in line for food that on this night they’ll get something extra.

“We’ve got some kits for you over here," he tells them. "They have a flashlight, they have a whistle and they have a flier that we just created today.”

The flier emphasizes safety precautions like staying in small groups and avoiding dark areas. Palmer says many of the men in line have asked questions about the investigation.

“They’ve heard things from other people or they’ve read something maybe in the paper but they don’t know the whole story," Palmer said. "And so that’s really why our team is here is to share as much of the whole story as we’re aware of.”

The murders have occurred across three cities: Placentia, Anaheim and Yorba Linda. Police and FBI officials have formed a task force to investigate.

David Deisher, 52, used to trim trees for a living before he became homeless last year. He usually sleeps in the back of a building near the Santa Ana Convention Center.

Deisher said police encouraged him to find a safer place to rest at night.

“I’m at a motel right now because the cops are kind of cautious," Deisher said as he waited for a meal. "Cause I sleep by myself and I understand that, so that they’re not watching me so much I’m going to a motel... I'm one of the fortunate ones - got a little money... I feel bad for the people that died and their families.”

Deisher says that when he returns to the streets, he’ll keep his whistle and flashlight handy.

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