MESA, Ariz. – A man's anger over drug abuse drove him to fatally shoot four men and wound a woman in a 12-hour crime spree in metro Phoenix, authorities said.
Iren Byers, 20, was taken into custody Sunday on suspicion of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder, police in the suburb of Mesa said.
He remained jailed without bond Tuesday, and it wasn’t immediately known if Byers has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf. His next scheduled court appearance is later this week.
Byers apparently met the victims at random on Friday at a range of places including a park and a convenience store, police said. He shot most of them in the head when the topic turned to drugs, according to police investigators.
The deceased were all men between the age of 40 and 41.
"He’s claiming that when people are asking him if he wanted to get high on fentanyl, things like that, then it really upset him because his brother was using that type of drug, and that set him off,” Mesa police Detective Richard Encinas told Phoenix radio station KTAR on Tuesday.
There have been a number of high-profile drug seizures in recent months in the nation’s fifth-largest city. Authorities seized more than 1 million fentanyl pills from a Mexican man in Phoenix two months ago. That followed seizures of 165,000 pills, 137,000 pills and 122,000 pills from drug traffickers in Phoenix in January.
Phoenix also has been in the throes of dueling lawsuits over managing homelessness that has converted its downtown into a tent city housing hundreds of people as summer temperatures soar. Striking a balance between meeting the demands of residents and business owners but respecting the rights of homeless people is a dilemma facing major cities around the U.S.
Mesa police arrested Byers near his grandmother’s apartment complex about a half mile (0.8 kilometers) from the last shooting.
Byers took responsibility for the shootings and told officers where they could find the clothes and 9mm handgun used in the crimes, police said.
Video surveillance footage showed the suspect wearing the clothing reported by witnesses at multiple shooting scenes, police said.
“He directed us to where not only the murder weapon was, but where the clothing was that he wore when he committed all four of these shootings (in Mesa) and basically laid out the whole story for us,” Encinas said.
The shootings began around 2:45 p.m. Friday in Phoenix, according to court documents.
Byers was walking along a canal with Nicholas Arnstad, who reportedly was smoking fentanyl. Byers allegedly shot Arnstad over his drug use and because Byers’ brother also abused fentanyl, police said.
Byers went to Mesa’s Beverly Park later that day and met Julian Cox, who allegedly talked to Byers about using “blues,” the street name for fentanyl pills. Byers shot and killed Cox before fleeing the scene, police said.
Byers then met Stephen Young at a Mesa convenience store late Friday night, police said. Young wanted to smoke fentanyl, and Byers allegedly shot him and ran off.
Byers next talked to a John Swain, a homeless man, near railroad tracks in Mesa, according to court documents. Authorities later found Swain shot dead.
Police said Byers met his final victim while walking on Mesa’s Main Street. He talked with 36-year-old Angela Fonseca until she made him mad, then allegedly shot her in the face. Investigators did not give any details about their conversation.
Fonseca was taken to the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries but is expected to survive, according to authorities.
At least one shell casing from each crime scene matched the same handgun, police said.
“Once we were able to locate him and conducted the interview, that’s when it turned into where he admitted to the whole thing,” Encinas said.
Byers told investigators that he did not call for medical aid for the victims because they “didn’t deserve it,” according to court documents.
“Knowing that Iren Byers will have to face the consequences of his unjustified actions is the start of justice to be seen,” Detective Brandi George, a Mesa police spokeswoman, said in a statement.