By Deon J. Hampton - NBC News
Residents of a homeless encampment where one person was shot dead and four others were injured said they were scared and angry, as the gunman is still at large and police say they do not know why the community was attacked.
But some camp residents say the motive for the Dec. 1 shooting is clear to them and exemplifies the ongoing violence faced by the homeless, including the recent shootings in Los Angeles of three homeless people.
Shawn Fierro, 30, at a homeless encampment in Las Vegas.Bridget Bennett for NBC News
"I think it was something against the homeless," said Veronica Ledesma, 29, who lives in an encampment two blocks from where the shooting took place.
Ledesma, who became homeless 14 years ago when her parents kicked her out of her Las Vegas home, is among the growing number of homeless people in the metro area, which reached an eight-year high of nearly 7,000 in January, according to a survey conducted by Clark County.
Las Vegas officials blame the pandemic, inflation and a shortage of affordable housing for the growing number of homeless people in the region, who are often seen as the waste of society and include many mentally ill and drug addicts.
Some have been literally forced underground, turning aqueducts and tunnels built to control flooding under The Strip in Las Vegas into shelters. But these people have been under attack for decades. In the early 2000s they were videotaped and sold under the name Bumfights, and in 2008 a homeless man was burned alive in Los Angeles.
"I'm angry and sad," said Shawn Fierro, 30, who knew the five victims of the shooting as he lives in a tent near Route 95, about 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) from the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas entertainment center.
Fierro admits that he fears being the next victim.
"I'm worried it could happen again," he said. "Who's to say it can't happen to me?"
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has released surveillance video of the suspect fleeing the scene of the shooting, which came after three homeless people were shot and killed in Los Angeles in late November. Las Vegas authorities have said the shootings are unrelated.
Shawn Fierro holds a friend's guinea pig. Bridget Bennett for NBC News
Several people living in the camp where the attack took place 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 no one wants us in the community," said Ledesma, who sleeps in a concrete corner under a large blue tarp covering his used sofa bed, a blanket, clothes and the unnamed guinea pig he found one night.
"There are rats and cockroaches, so you have to have a bed," she says of her sofa bed.
Frank Lucero, 46, a man who became homeless eight years ago after getting divorced and losing his job, says he has grown accustomed to living in danger.
"I'm not afraid," she says.
Frank Lucero, 46.Bridget Bennett for NBC News
Las Vegas police declined to comment on what they are doing to protect this population of the city and referred NBC News to the website of their Homeless Outreach Team, which aims to "decrease the number of homeless people who require medical and law enforcement responses."
City officials passed an encampment ordinance in 2019 that makes it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in public rights-of-way, on sidewalks or streets, in the downtown and residential neighborhoods when beds are available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another nonprofit service provider.
The 500-bed resource center north of downtown in the Corridor of Hope, where the city's largest homeless population is concentrated, offers housing and access to health care, housing and employment services.
They are not required to be sober and can stay as long as they need, city officials explain.
Frank Lucero declutters his belongings on Dec. 5, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada.Bridget Bennett for NBC News
"The goal is for people to be healthy, to have housing and jobs," said Jace Radke, a city spokesman.
Earlier this week, hundreds of people were crowding the resource center or camping out in tents on nearby streets.
"Now they are the ones who decide if they want to come. Some people are resistant to services," Radke said, though he stressed that "it's a priority for the city to help those in need."