New York detectives are searching for four potential witnesses to the killing of a Brooklyn shop owner, the latest in a trio of murders in which all three victims were of Middle Eastern descent and all appear to have been shot by the same .22 caliber gun.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said today that the department will ask the FBI for a profiler to help identify who might have killed these three people -- and, in a prepared statement Supervisory Special Agent Martin Feely of the FBI's New York office said the bureau would be providing that help.
"The FBI will be providing assistance, to include expertise from the Behavioral Analysis Unit," Feely said. "The New York Police Department remains the lead investigative agency."
Rahmatollah Vahidipour, an Iranian Jew, was killed inside the She She boutique in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on Friday night, sustaining three gunshot wounds to the head and torso. The 78-year-old's body was dragged to the back of the store and covered with merchandise, WABC reported.
Police said that shell casings from the gun match the casings found at two other murder scenes this summer.
In addition, the killings were within a five mile radius of each other, each occurred at a small shop that lacked security cameras and each victim was over 50, police said. It was also not clear whether the victims were robbed.
Vahidipour's body was discovered in his boutique at 7:11 p.m. The four people caught on video in the vicinity of the area between 6 p.m. and 6: 52 p.m. on Friday are not considered suspects in the crime, police said.
"Detectives want to question them about what they may have observed because of the time of day and their proximity to the homicide scene," Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement.
Police said that two of the potential witnesses, a man and a woman, were captured on video Friday evening running one after the other south on Flatbush Avenue, a half block south of the crime scene. The woman can be seen taking off her green jacket, which police said was later recovered in a nearby garbage can.
Police indicated they have a strong interest in talking to a white male seen carrying a duffle bag in one of several photos and a video they released.
Ballistic tests performed by the NYPD show that the gun used in Friday's homicide was also used in two recent south Brooklyn shooting deaths this summer.
Clothing store owner Mohamed Gebeli, an Egyptian Muslim, was killed inside Valentino Fashion in Bay Ridge on July 6. Gebeli was shot in the neck and was found with several pieces of clothing on top of him. Police said $383 in receipts was missing, but $1,500 was found inside a cabinet.
On Aug. 2, Isaac Kadare, a Jew who was of Egyptian descent, was found dead at the Amazing 99 Cents Deal store that he owned in Bensonhurst. Kadare had been shot in the temple and had three stab wounds to the neck. His face was covered with an aluminum tray and bleach had been splashed on his pants. It wasn't clear if anything had been taken from Kadare's store.
Police said they are not sure if the homicides were racially motivated.
State Sen. Eric Adams, a former New York City police officer, suggested Sunday that the string of homicides could be the work of a serial killer.
"We don't want the city to be engulfed in fear based on the actions of a potential serial killer who appears to be targeting men of Middle Eastern descent," Adams said. "This person must be apprehended."
Police said that no evidence has yet been recovered to indicate bias crime in Vahidipour's murder. Still, personnel from the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force were added Sunday to a group of detectives investigating the three homicides "for their expertise."
Former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said the common thread between the three homicides could be that as shop owners working alone, they were all vulnerable.
"The question clearly is motive. It's going to be robbery, hate, or revenge," Garrett said. "If the motive is robbery, a lot of violent robbers shoot the people they rob. If this is a hate crime, he went in there to do what he did, to kill the owner and have enough time to get away. If that's the case, I think it's reasonable to think all three of these guys were profiled previously."
Rewards of $22,000 in each of the homicides are being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the crimes.
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