PHILADELPHIA -- Officers arrested a man Monday believed to be the serial killer who raped and strangled three women in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood last year.
Antonio Rodriguez, 22, was brought to the Homicide Unit about 7 p.m. EST, hours after a state police DNA database linked him to the crimes.
Detectives planned Monday night to take another DNA sample, which they expected to conclusively link Rodriguez to the killings that have gripped the city.
At a news conference shortly after the arrest, Mayor Michael Nutter praised the work of the task force that has been investigating the "Kensington strangler" since the first deaths in November.
"Every day that this has been going on, the Philadelphia Police Department and our city would not rest until we had someone in custody," Nutter said. "It's a great job by the Philadelphia Police Department."
Rodriguez is being held on a bench warrant for a probation violation until a second DNA test can be conducted. Lab technicians at the department's Forensic Science Bureau were waiting Monday night to begin the testing.
Family and friends of the victims cheered the arrest.
"It doesn't bring my daughter back, but it has really been difficult to have this bastard walking around free knowing what he's done," said Joe Goldberg, father of the first victim, Elaine Goldberg. "He'll get his now."
Sandy Salzman, executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corp., called the arrest "an amazing relief" for the neighborhood.
"People wouldn't walk around at night, and some of the businesses were starting to hurt," she said. "During the day, most people felt safe, and once it got dark, people didn't want to be out."
Elaine Goldberg, a 21-year-old nursing student, was found dead in a lot Nov. 3. The second victim, 35-year-old Nicole Piacentini, was found at an abandoned building 10 days later. The final victim, Casey Mahoney, 27, was discovered Dec. 15 in the woods along a set of train tracks.
None of the victims was from Kensington, a neighborhood teeming with drugs and prostitution, but all three had struggled with addiction. The victims all were sexually assaulted and strangled.
Several other women came forward after the first deaths to say they had been attacked in a similar fashion, but no other attacks have been linked to Rodriguez.
"I'm just so glad they caught him before he could hurt anybody else," said Jodie Melodia, a friend of Mahoney's. "It was horrible losing Casey in such a traumatic way and not knowing if he would hurt someone else. I wouldn't want anyone to feel the hurt that way."
Rodriguez was released on probation from the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on Aug. 29 after being jailed for nearly three months on a felony drug charge, sources said.
Two bench warrants subsequently were issued after Rodriguez failed to comply with the terms of his probation.
As a convicted felon, his DNA was collected when he was released from jail. The state police database received his DNA on Oct. 25. The database has about an eight-week backlog, and Rodriguez's DNA wasn't uploaded until Jan. 10.
Philadelphia police had linked all three homicides through DNA, and a sample taken from the crime scenes was uploaded on Nov. 23, three weeks before Mahoney's death.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey declined to comment Monday evening on the backlog.
Capt. James Clark, commander of the Homicide Unit, said Rodriguez was believed to be homeless, hanging around Kensington and staying in vacant buildings.
Rodriguez's family lives near Kensington in North Philadelphia. Several of his relatives were taken to the Homicide Unit to be interviewed Monday night, and a man at the home who said he was Rodriguez's brother declined to comment.
Amanda Rios, 22, grew up in the neighborhood and said she had known Rodriguez since he was a little boy.
"That is so crazy," she said when she learned that her neighbor was a suspected serial killer. "I walk these streets every single day."
(Staff writer Nathan Gorenstein contributed to this article.)
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