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Beatings of Homeless Leave 1 Dead

A group of youths may be to blame for attacks in Fort Lauderdale on three men within four hours, police say. One assault is caught on tape.

January 13, 2006|Brian Haas and Jamie Malernee | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The beatings started at 1:20 a.m. Thursday.

At least two young men with bats attacked a homeless man outside a downtown Fort Lauderdale university building.

Another 911 call came at 2:38 a.m., at a park across the street from the Broward Performing Arts Center, only half a mile away, police said.

The attack was more vicious this time. A man called to say his friend was hurt, lying on a park bench. When paramedics arrived, they found the victim barely alive, his head bashed in, defensive wounds on his arms.

Not long after the second victim died, police had a third. Just after 4 a.m., a homeless man crawled from the Church by the Sea garden, where he had been attacked, and flagged down a crew of firefighters.

Within three hours and four miles, police say, a group of two to four young men had put two homeless men in the hospital and one in the morgue. One of the attacks was caught on a Florida Atlantic University surveillance video.

"It's senseless. If you look at these kids, it was almost like it was fun and games for them," said Scott Russell, a Fort Lauderdale police officer who heads the department's crisis intervention team.

"It looked like they were laughing and finding great joy in what they were doing, which made it more horrific."

Drifter Norris Gaynor, 45, did not survive severe blows to his head. Police did not release the identity of the two other men, whose conditions could not be determined late Thursday.

Although there was no direct evidence that the three beatings were all by the same suspects, authorities were investigating them as such because of the similar style of attack. Police said the attackers would face murder charges.

"This is a heinous crime that will not go unpunished," said Fort Lauderdale police spokeswoman Katherine Collins.

The surveillance tape shows two young men chasing and beating the first victim with bats. Paramedics took the man to Broward General Medical Center for treatment of head trauma and defensive fractures.

A few blocks southwest, in a secluded portion of Riverwalk Linear Park, attackers beat Gaynor, who later died at Broward General.

The final attack came about 90 minutes later and three miles away. Assailants found a man sleeping on a bench in the Church by the Sea's memorial gardens and beat him severely, Collins said.

"He claims that while sleeping he was attacked," said Assistant Chief Stephen McInerny with Fort Lauderdale FireRescue.

Advocates say random violence against the homeless has long existed and is on the rise.

South Florida has had at least five cases of homelessrelated killings by teens or young adults in the last two decades.

In 1986, in West Palm Beach, four teens decided, as a police report put it, to "roust some bums" for fun and beat a homeless man to death. In 1996, a 40-year-old homeless man was punched, kicked and stomped to death by a gang of teens in Pompano Beach.

"It's one of the shameful secrets we have, the beating of homeless for sport," said Marti Forman, chief executive of the Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale. "It's a recreation thing; it's an initiation for gangs and fraternities. I see it in the kitchen in the mornings, people coming in with their black eyes and broken teeth."

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