Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Marine vet charged with slaying 4 homeless men

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter. - Ernest Hemingway

Santa Ana - When death came to John Berry, it was at the point of a single-edged blade of 7 inches, something similar to the Ka-Bar fighting knife, a short Bowie with a carbon steel blade used by Marines.

Victims of that blade were stabbed and slashed repeatedly, some of the blows so violent that the blade cut through bone, according to the medical examiner.

Only the day before, Mr. Berry, a homeless man who lived rough on the streets amid the glittering boulevards and multimillion dollar beach front homes, contacted police and said he felt there was someone following him, someone who wanted to kill him.

He wasn't alone in his feelings. Terror gripped the sizable homeless population of Orange County since a day in December, when the first of four victims fell to that 7-inch blade.

It was only one of some 600 tips fielded by a homicide task force on that day alone as they searched for the serial killer who was meticulously stalking and killing homeless men.

After the killing of Mr. Berry, witnesses chased down a man with blood on his hands and face, a man seen running from the scene of the brutal knife slaying. They held him for police.

His name is Itzcoatl Ocampo, a Marine who came home from Iraq so remarkably changed that his father and a neighbor urged him to seek help from VA medical authorities.

He is at present held in a mental ward, charged with the murder of four homeless men. His arraignment for the charges has been delayed until his attorney has had a chance to interview him because, at present, he's in no condition to talk.

Mr. Ocampo refused the help his father, friends and family knew he could get at the VA hospital.

Though he accepted medical treatment for a condition that made his head ache and his hands shake, he began to drink heavily and dropped out of the program.

That is typical of returning war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They simply do not trust the services of the VA medical centers stateside, which are diagnosis-driven and label men who are working hard to shift gears and make a return to a civilian world as mentally defective, afflicted with very grave mental and emotional disorders.

Mr. Ocampo was able to finish his tour of duty, but could not hide his problem once he got home. His fears showed through his battle-hardened warrior affect. He was a broken man, a Marine in need of help who could not allow himself to admit his problem. For some reason, the stress of being a normal man in the abnormal hell and smoke and fire of urban warfare in a foreign land unhinged him. He succumbed to a terrible urge to lash out with that most personal of contact weapons, the blade.

Only a few days before he attacked John Berry with his knife, Itzcoatl Ocampo urged his father to seek shelter and quit living rough because of the danger of attack. The senior Ocampo is homeless, living in the sleeper berth of a big rig he is helping to restore.

Such arrangements are typical of working men who lose their jobs and families. Life on the streets is only a lost paycheck away.

The Ocampo family, Itzcoatl's mother and aunts, live as tenants on a horse ranch in the midst of Orange County's opulent urban sprawl near Yorba Linda.

The huge majority of war veterans return to their communities and overcome their difficulties; they never face the type of urges that would lead them to murder and mayhem, but the threat of being ostracized socially is still very great once the healing process begins through formal channels at VA hospitals.

“If you ask for help, they make a record of that, and it's hard to find employment. Let's say you want to work for the fire department, there's a problem,” said Caleb Duty, a two-tour veteran of the Iraq war who is organizing a Memorial Day country music festival in the Bosque Bottoms at Meridian. Secure work with benefits is difficult to obtain. Employers at defense plants, naval shipyards, nuclear power plants and other high security occupations are reluctant to take on a man who has admitted he has problems. So are public utilities providers such as phone companies, electrical providers and water departments.

“Hey, I'm down here trying to check this thing out before it turns into something worse, something I can't back out of,” said Caleb Duty of the 3/2. “But, here, they make a big deal out of it and it affects your whole life.”

Needless to say, to make such an admission while on active duty in a combat role renders a grunt totally useless to his unit. Standard operating procedure is to relieve those who do of their weapons and ship them stateside immediately if the shrinks at the battallion level can't find a way to safely return them to their unit as quickly as possible.

Suddenly, the man who was trained that unit – the squad, the platoon, the company, the batallion, the corps – comes first and foremost, he is suddenly an individual, an individual alone and in the hurt locker.

Not good.

Mr. Duty's mission is simple enough. He is seeking to organize a Moonlight Music Festival to take place over two days during the Memorial Day weekend at Bosque Bottoms in Meridian. City officials in his home town of Robinson rejected an application to hold the event on his family's rural property in that city, citing safety concerns. Potential donors, commercial sponsors, performers and media may reach him at

The first step in the process is to reduce the possibility that veterans isolate themselves and lose contact with family and friends. More importantly, they should be in contact with other veterans with similar experiences. Hence, the Moonlight Music Festival.

The names of the victims and the circumstances of their demise march across the page with the precision of the investigator's ink as it chronicles the month-long killing spree.

James Patrick McGillivray lost his life near a shopping center in Placentia on Dec. 20; Lloyd Middaugh succumbed to the blade on a riverbed trail in Anaheim December 28; Paulus Smit was outside a library in Yorba Lina on December 30 when he shed his lifeblood on that blade; John Berry was on a downtown skid row when passersby saw him attacked and killed with a 7-inch blade.

That's when they pursued his attacker, ran him down, and held him for police.

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