DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, left, and Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III, right, with Washington Metropolitan Police Homicide Capt. Kevin Kentish during Tuesday's news conference.
CNN  — 

Capt. Kevin Kentish, a Queens native who now works with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, was scrolling through his social media over the weekend when something caught his eye.

Kentish, who still stayed up to date with news from his home state, saw footage that New York City police had released of a person of interest wanted in connection with the shootings of two homeless individuals there, one of whom was killed.

In Washington, Kentish and his team were investigating the March 9 killing of a homeless person. The detective flagged the photos to his colleagues and they reached out to New York and federal law enforcement agencies and began comparing evidence, including shell casings left behind at the scenes.

“Our partners at the ATF tested our evidence that was recovered, they tested the evidence that was recovered in New York and we got a hit,” Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said. They were looking for the same person.

Authorities in Washington tied two more local shootings to the suspect. Leaders from both cities held a joint news conference Monday and appealed to the public for help in identifying the suspect. An anonymous tip helped lead to his identity.

ATF agents found and arrested 30-year-old Gerald Brevard III on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington at around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

He was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and assault with intent to kill in connection with two non-fatal shootings of homeless people and with first-degree murder while armed for the killing of 54-year-old Morgan Holmes, who also had no fixed address, Washington police announced Tuesday. CNN was not immediately able to identify an attorney for Brevard.

“We’ve got our man,” Contee said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “This case is an example of what happens when there is good police work, science and community support.”

In a separate news conference, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said although authorities in New York City have not yet announced charges for the individual, they believe it is the same person as the Washington suspect because they have connected the gun through ballistic evidence and his clothing through pictures.

“We don’t have enough to make an arrest, we’re working with the Manhattan district attorney, we’re gathering all our evidence,” Essig said. “I’m very confident we’ll get there.”

NYPD investigators were canvassing high-definition cameras across New York City to build a complete timeline of where the suspect went while he was in the city, a law enforcement official told CNN.

On Wednesday, a judge in DC ordered that Brevard remain detained. His next status hearing is scheduled for April 1.

‘A jarring act against a defenseless person’

The first known shooting happened around 4 a.m. on March 3 in DC, police said. Officers responded to sounds of gunshots and found a man suffering from apparent gunshot wounds, who was taken to a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

On March 8, DC authorities responded to reports of another shooting a little after 1:20 a.m., and found a man suffering from apparent gunshot wounds who was also treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Both victims are recovering, Contee said this week.

On March 9, at about 2:52 a.m., a DC police member noticed a fire. The remains of a man – who police later identified as Holmes – were discovered and he was pronounced dead at the scene. A medical examiner determined the victim died of multiple stab and gunshot wounds.

All three victims appeared to be experiencing homelessness, DC police said.

At about 4:30 a.m. on March 12, officers in New York City responded to a 38-year-old man who had been shot in the arm while sleeping, Essig said. Roughly 90 minutes later, another man who was sleeping on a sidewalk was shot multiple times and was pronounced dead on the scene, Essig said.

“You’re kind of taken aback and you’re shocked that someone can commit such a jarring act against a defenseless person,” Essig said.

As soon as they linked the two shootings, New York police held a news conference Saturday night and released images of their person of interest. That’s when Kentish, the DC detective, saw the pictures, according to officials.

Washington police contacted the NYPD on Sunday morning, Essig said, and by 2 p.m., “it is confirmed that all five instances – the three in DC and the two in New York City – are a match and are a ballistics’ lead.”

Authorities say they’re still investigating how the suspect moved between the two cities, but suspect he may have taken public transportation, Essig said.

A gun has not been recovered as part of the investigation, authorities said. The suspect has had “multiple contacts with police in various states,” Essig said.

Brevard has not offered a motive, Contee said, and authorities are not certain about any connections he may have to the victims.

Suspect has mental illness, his family says

The alleged shooter’s father, Gerald Brevard Jr., extended condolences to the victims’ families and told CNN his son suffers from mental illness.

Brevard received psychiatric treatment several years ago after being found mentally incompetent to stand trial for a separate assault charge, according to his father and court records. After three months, Brevard was found competent to stand trial and transferred back to jail, according to court records.

But before he was released, his father urged authorities to have him transferred back to a psychiatric hospital because he “wasn’t well,” but was told that was not possible, he told CNN.

“The bigger picture is not that he has mental illness, but the number of times that he’s been within the judicial system and how the system has failed regarding the treatment of so many, including my son.”

He said that his son has lived on and off with his great-aunt but has been experiencing homelessness in the last few years.

The suspect’s cousin, Rosaline Law, told CNN affiliate WUSA that he has suffered from mental illness “for a long time.”

She said her mom “took him in and gave him a chance to get himself together but if you don’t get help it’s going to keep going to the next level.”

Brevard has an arrest record dating back over a decade across several states. In 2010, he was charged with malicious destruction of property in Maryland – which was resolved with a guilty plea and probation.

He was charged in 2018 with assault with a dangerous weapon in DC, for which he eventually pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement and was handed 12 months of a suspended sentence and two years of supervised release, also suspended. Brevard was ordered to undergo mental health and substance abuse assessments. Court records show he violated conditions of his release before and after his conviction.

He was charged again in 2020 in two separate incidents in Fairfax County, Virginia – and was found guilty of a charge of assault and battery and of entering property to cause damage. Last month, he was charged with a probation violation in the state.

And in November 2020, Brevard was charged with 33 counts including theft, credit card theft and theft from a vehicle in Maryland, court records show. A judge issued a bench warrant last February – which still appears to be active – after Brevard failed to appear in court.

What advocates say the shootings highlight

As police searched for the perpetrator of the crimes, DC and New York City leaders urged homeless residents to seek shelter.

But advocates say that for some people experiencing homelessness, shelters can be unsafe and dangerous environments too, and that the recent spate of violence highlights how important it is for elected leaders to invest in ensuring housing and resources for homeless residents.

“We know that homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators but, unfortunately, much of the discourse lately has been vilifying homeless New Yorkers and painting them as dangerous, rather than recognizing the inherent dangers that people without housing face,” Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, told CNN affiliate WABC.

The group has also linked New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ recent initiative to clear out the subways to the violence.

Officials say the city’s plan, which Adams unveiled in a joint news conference with Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, will work to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system, but critics have said it criminalizes people experiencing homelessness and mental illness.

“We had said at the time that if the city was not actually investing in the types of shelters and permanent housing that people want and need, that people would just be relocated from the subways onto the streets,” Simone told the affiliate.

Adams stood by the initiative this week, telling reporters, “We are not going to allow the residents of our city to be in a position where they can’t take care of themselves or they’re dangerous to others.

When asked on Monday about the efforts to help unsheltered residents find permanent housing, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city is continuing a pilot program that aims to provide people living in certain encampment sites with resources, move them to affordable housing and clear out unsafe living areas.

But advocates have expressed concern that the program could leave many people on the margins again if unsheltered residents aren’t properly accommodated as officials clear out the sites – and could contribute to further criminalizing homelessness.

CNN’s Aaron Cooper, Caroll Alvarado and Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.