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Las Vegas police who caught suspect in deaths of homeless men empathized with victims

Updated March 11, 2017 - 1:17 pm

Two brutal killings of homeless men in Las Vegas and the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to find the killer serve as stark reminders of the humanity and inhumanity of life on the streets.

It was Jan. 3 when 46-year-old Daniel Aldape was killed as he slept on a downtown street near the intersection of City and Grand Central parkways. A month later, 60-year-old David Dunn died the same way at roughly the same location.

Authorities suspected the two men, both curled underneath blankets to protect themselves from 40-degree weather, were beaten to death with a hammer.

With Las Vegas experiencing more than its share of crime recently, it’s doubtful whether anyone would have raised an eyebrow if police had put the killings on the back burner.

Guy W., a 60-year-old homeless man who often sleeps on the street near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Owens Avenue, said he was surprised police would put so many resources into solving the murders of the two homeless men.

“A lot of people don’t even think we’re human,” he said. “So many people don’t care if we live or die.”

But investigators spent weeks camped out where the two homeless men died, with video surveillance trained on a mannequin under a blanket.

“Could I live with the idea that he came back a third time, and we didn’t do anything about it? No,” Metro Capt. Andrew Walsh told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Ferrara.

On Feb. 22, Shane Schindler was caught on tape bashing the blanketed decoy with a 4-pound ball-peen hammer.

Schindler, who later said he knew it was a mannequin, now faces an attempted murder charge.

In a report released last year, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that since 1999 as many as 1,700 homeless people — about a third of whom are believed to be mentally ill — were attacked by people who were not homeless.

They were generally helpless men and women — someone’s son or daughter, perhaps mom or dad — who became victims of beatings, robberies and murders.

They were often people whose appearance and smell and sometimes bizarre behavior caused far too many people to write them off as refuse, as men and women and children unworthy of concern.

That heart-of-stone attitude can, and does, spawn hate and sometimes violence.

Given the reaction of investigators to the recent killings of the homeless in Las Vegas, it’s clear that the Metropolitan Police Department refuses to tolerate unconscionable behavior toward the most vulnerable among us, those without a place they can call home.

Though how the officers arrested a suspect was impressive — their creativity with a mannequin has been lauded nationwide — their explanation for why they did what they did is even more impressive.

“The two victims had become disenfranchised with the world,” Walsh said. “They didn’t have homes. They didn’t have families to go home to. We treated this as if they were our own family members who were killed.”

Metro police, through their compassion and empathy, have set an example for the rest of us.

“What they did showed such respect for all people,” said Emily Paulsen, executive director of Nevada Homeless Alliance.

It’s what the best of police work is always about.

Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday in the Nevada section and Monday in the Health section. Contact him at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.

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