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O.C. bystander chased suspect, screaming “It’s the serial killer"

January 15, 2012 |  5:16 pm

John Berry, 64, is warned on Jan. 5 by Anaheim Police Sgt. Mike Lynch about the serial killer preying on homeless men in Orange County.

It was only fitting that a group of loyal bystanders took action when John Berry was stabbed Friday outside a fast-food restaurant.

After all, everyone knew John.

The homeless man, a Vietnam veteran with a long white beard, was a fixture in this part of Anaheim, where apartments, strip malls and mobile homes sit above the Santa Ana riverbed. Berry could often be found camping on its banks, reading a book next to his mountain bike.

After the stabbing, at least two bystanders chased the suspect for a quarter of a mile, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn. Witnesses in the Friendly Village mobile home park reported seeing a man in a black hooded sweatshirt being pursued by a man talking on a cellphone before police swooped in.

And though neighbors didn’t initially know what all the commotion was about, before long many of them learned that they had apparently witnessed a foot pursuit of the man suspected of killing their friend John.

It was particularly heart-wrenching for Darin Wilson, a friend of Berry’s for the last six years who feared for Berry's safety as talk grew of a serial killer targeting the area’s homeless.

The night before, Wilson had run into Berry in the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr.  when he went to get a soda.

“Thank God you didn’t get killed,” he told Berry from behind the wheel of his Ford Bronco. Berry looked back with a scared expression, Wilson recalled. 

So Wilson reached out, held hands with Berry and began to pray.

“In Jesus’ name, may the Lord protect John and us all from this killer,” he prayed. 

“I’m going to pray for you too,” Wilson recalled Berry telling him.

The following evening, Wilson was sitting on his front porch in Friendly Village when a young man in a black hooded jacket staggered past, out of breath.

In the glow of the streetlights he could make out the man’s nose poking through the hood. The man was darting around nervously, he said. “He looked like he was looking for some place to hide.”

When Wilson called out, the man ran off through some bushes and turned the corner toward the next row of homes.

Moments later, a bald, clean-cut man ran by at full speed, breathing hard, a cellphone glued to his ear.

“It’s the serial killer -- that’s him!” Wilson recalled the man saying. “He stabbed a guy 20 times at Carl’s Jr., a homeless guy,” the man added.

 Wilson realized the man was talking about Berry when he heard his name on the TV news.

For Wilson, who was once homeless himself and would run into Berry when they both camped along the Santa Ana riverbed, the pain of losing his friend in such a way has been particularly jarring.

“I just don’t know why John had to go out like that,” Wilson said. “He was a good man. He brought out the best in people.”

Berry, friends said, would have long, spiritual talks with people from all walks of life. He was calm and pleasant, didn’t drink and knew the area so well that he had names for all the neighborhood coyotes and would feed them.

Berry, 64, was also a familiar presence at the Carl’s Jr., where Itzcoatl Ocampo is suspected of fatally stabbing him Friday evening in front of several witnesses.

Anaheim Police said that at least several people witnessed the stabbing. Investigators have interviewed more than two dozen witnesses. 

Visitors to the shopping center regularly offered Berry help, food and cash, but he often refused. Many had recently expressed concern about him remaining on the street, especially since authorities began investigating a series of killings of homeless men believed to be the work of a serial killer.


Police probe string of O.C. deaths

O.C. serial killer sought in deaths of homeless men

Vulnerable homeless men try to foil Orange County killer

-- Tony Barboza in Anaheim

Photo: John Berry, 64, is warned  Jan. 5 by Anaheim Police Sgt. Mike Lynch about the serial killer preying on homeless men in Orange County. On Friday, Berry was killed. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times