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Homeless people in Las Vegas live in fear after gunman targets their community

An assailant who killed an unhoused man and wounded four others remains at large, making residents who live on the streets feel even more vulnerable than usual.
Shawn Fierro, 30, at a homeless encampment in Las Vegas.
Shawn Fierro, 30, at a homeless encampment in Las Vegas.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

LAS VEGAS — Residents of a homeless encampment where one person was fatally shot and four others were wounded said they are scared and angry as the assailant remains at large and police say they do not know why the unhoused community was targeted.

But some unsheltered residents say the motive for the Dec. 1 shooting is clear to them, and it exemplifies the ongoing violence homeless people endure, including the recent shootings of three unhoused residents in Los Angeles.

“I think it was something against homeless people,” said Veronica Ledesma, 29, who lives in an encampment two blocks from where the shooting occurred.

Ledesma, who said she became homeless 14 years ago when her parents kicked her out of their house in Las Vegas, is among a growing number of unhoused people in the metropolitan area, where their numbers reached an eight-year high of nearly 7,000 in January, according to a survey conducted by Clark County.

Flowers hang on a fence near the site of a shooting at a homeless encampment in Las Vegas.
Flowers hang on a fence near the site of the shooting.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

Las Vegas officials blame the pandemic, inflation and an affordable housing shortage for the region’s growing number of homeless people, who are often viewed as society’s castoffs and include many struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

Some have literally been forced underground, turning aqueducts and tunnels built for flood control beneath the Las Vegas Strip into shelter for themselves. But homeless people have been under attack for decades. Staged fights between homeless men were videotaped and sold under the name Bumfights in the early 2000s, and a homeless man was burned alive in Los Angeles in 2008.

“I’m mad and I’m sad,” said Shawn Fierro, 30, a homeless man who knew all five shooting victims and lives in a tent near Route 95, about 10 miles from the lights and sounds of the Strip.

Fierro said he fears he could be the next victim.

“I’m worried it may happen again,” he said. “Who’s to say it can’t happen to me?”

Shawn Fierro holds a friend’s guinea pig.
Fierro holds a friend’s guinea pig.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has released security video of the shooter fleeing the scene of the shooting, which came after three homeless people were shot in Los Angeles in late November. Las Vegas police have said the shootings are unrelated.

The Clark County coroner's office identified the man killed as Timothy Bratton, 57, who died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The police department has not released the names of the wounded.

Several people who live in the encampment where the shooting occurred said they have since been harassed and threatened by local homeowners who don’t want them in their neighborhood.

“We try to stay hidden and out of public view, but nobody wants us in the community,” said Ledesma, who sleeps on a concrete curb under a large, blue tarp covering her used futon, a blanket, clothes and the unnamed guinea pig she found outside a storefront one night.

“There’s rats and cockroaches, so you gotta have a bed,” she said of her futon.

Frank Lucero, 46, who became homeless eight years ago after going through a divorce and losing his job, said he has become accustomed to living in harm’s way.

“I’m not afraid,” he said.

Frank Lucero at a homeless encampment in Las Vegas.
Frank Lucero, 46.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

Las Vegas police declined to comment on what they are doing to protect the city’s homeless population and referred NBC News to the website of its Homeless Outreach Team, which aims to “lower the number of unhoused people requiring law enforcement and medical responses.”

City officials passed an encampment ordinance in 2019 making it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in public rights of way, on sidewalks or streets, downtown and in residential neighborhoods when beds are available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another nonprofit service provider.

Frank Lucero sorts through belongings on December 5, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lucero sorts through belongings.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

The 500-bed resource center north of downtown in the “Corridor of Hope,” home to the city’s largest population of unhoused people, provides shelter and access to medical care, housing and employment services.

They are not required to be sober and can stay for as long as they need, city officials said.

“The goal is to get people healthy, housed and hired,” said city spokesman Jace Radke.

People’s belongings near the site of shooting on December 5, 2023 in Las Vegas.
People’s belongings near the site of the shooting.Bridget Bennett for NBC News

Earlier this week, it was business as usual as hundreds of people either crowded into the resource center or camped out in tents lining nearby streets.

“Now, it’s their choice if they want to come in. Some folks are resistant to services,” Radke said. “[But] it’s a priority for the city to help those in need.”