• Number of attacks on homeless at highest level in almost a decade
• 122 attacks, 20 murders in 2006, according to National Coalition for the Homeless
• For some teens, "this passes as amusement," expert says
By Ashley Fantz
Forty-nine-year-old Rex Baum, seen in 2003, was an alcoholic and homeless but worked at a gas station and did odd jobs around Milwaukee.
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- All Nathan Moore says he wanted to do was smoke pot and get drunk with his friends.
Killing Rex Baum was never part of the plan that day in 2004.
"It all started off as a game," Moore said.
The 15-year-old and his friends were taunting the homeless man -- throwing sticks and leaves -- after having a couple of beers with him.
No big deal, Moore says, but he's sorry for what came next.
It was a mistake, he said, a sudden primal surge that made him and his friends Luis Oyola, 16, and 17-year-old Andrew Ihrcke begin punching and kicking Baum.
"Luis says 'I'm gonna go hit him,' We're all laughing, thought he was joking around,'" but he wasn't, Moore concedes. "We just all started hitting him."
They hurled anything they could find -- rocks, bricks, even Baum's barbecue grill -- and pounded the 49-year-old with a pipe and with the baseball bat he kept at his campsite for protection.
Ihrcke smeared his own feces on Baum's face before cutting him with a knife "to see if he was alive," Moore said.
After destroying Baum's camp, the boys left the homeless man -- head wedged in his own grill -- under a piece of plastic where they hoped the "animals would eat" him.
Then, Moore says, they took off to grab a bite at McDonald's.
Baum's murder was indicative of a disturbing trend.
A National Coalition for the Homeless report says last year, there were 122 attacks and 20 murders against the homeless, the most attacks in nearly a decade. (Coalition report on 2006 homeless attacks)
Police found Baum's body two days after the teens attacked him.
They bragged about it around town. Police picked them up and they described what happened.
Ihrcke told police that killing "the bum" reminded him of playing a violent video game, a police report shows.
All three teens pleaded no contest to first degree reckless homicide charges and went to prison.
Moore recently turned 18 at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, where he is serving a 15 year sentence.
"When [the beating] stops, you say, 'What did we just do?'" he told CNN. "There's no rational explanation." (Watch teen explain how "game" became tragedy Video)
"It's disturbing to know that young people would literally kick someone when they're already down on their luck," said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. "We recognize that this isn't every teenager, but for some this passes as amusement."
Criminologists call these wilding sprees "sport killing," -- largely middle-class teens, with no criminal records, assaulting the homeless with bats, golf clubs, paintball guns. (Watch how nights are cold, fearful for Milwaukee homeless Video)
Some teens have even taped themselves in the act. Others have said they were inspired by "Bumfights," a video series created in 2002 and sold on the Web that features homeless people pummeling each other for the promise of a few bucks.
A segment called "Bum Hunter," hosted by a Crocodile Hunter-like actor wearing a safari outfit, shows him "tagging" homeless people by pouncing on them and binding their wrists.
The distributors of "Bumfights" have claimed they've sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
But the company has had to deal with a couple of legal issues unrelated to the Baum case.
Last year, three former homeless stars of "Bumfights" won a civil suit against filmmakers. Santa Monica attorney Mark Quigley, who represented Rufus Hannah, known as "Rufus the Stunt Bum" to series' fans, said he is unable to disclose the amount of the settlement.
Also, in July 2006, a California judge ordered "Bumfights'" producers Ryan McPherson and Zachary Bubeck to spend 180 days in jail for failing to perform community service related to guilty pleas they previously entered to charges of staging illegal street fights.
"Bumfights" directors did not answer CNN's request for an interview.
Attacks across the nation
Incidents of teen-on-homeless violence dotted the map last year. Florida racked up at least six such attacks in 2006. (Homeless attack across U.S.)
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