A northern California university town is on edge after a series of “violent and brazen” attacks in which three people were stabbed within a week – two fatally.
Authorities said they could not reveal whether they are searching for one or multiple suspects in the attacks, which began late last week. One of the victims who died was unhoused, and the other who died was a college student. In the most recent attack, an unhoused woman was injured after reportedly being knifed several times through her tent.
The Davis police chief, Darren Pytel, said he could not recall any incident like these in his four decades on the Davis police force.
“The attacks were particularly violent and brazen,” Pytel said at a Tuesday press conference, adding that in the most recent two attacks, the “suspect didn’t seem to care there were several witnesses” who could identify him.
The attacks have shaken the small city of roughly 67,000 residents, known for its laid-back vibe, bicycle-friendly infrastructure and the University of California, Davis, which is home to more than 13,000 students.
“People are scared,” said the Davis mayor, Will Arnold, at Tuesday’s news conference.
Police issued a shelter-in-place order shortly after the stabbing of the woman was reported at 11.45pm on Monday. It was lifted hours later after police said they had not caught the suspect, who is described as a male with long curly hair, a thin build and carrying a brown backpack.
The description was “substantially similar” to descriptions of the suspect from the second homicide, Pytel said.
The FBI is assisting the Davis police department, as are other law enforcement agencies.
Radhika Gawde, the president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis, said students stayed up Monday night monitoring police scanner activity and sharing information on social media.
“I think I speak for the whole community here when I say we’re devastated by the loss of our peer,” she told the Associated Press. “Our sense of safety has been completely shattered.”
Nearly 90% of nearly 3,900 students who responded to a student government survey said they don’t even feel safe attending classes during the day, she said. Gawde and her housemates, who live near campus, won’t go out alone and their parents have asked them to come home.
The first death was reported Thursday before noon when officers found an unresponsive male in downtown’s Central Park, hunched over a bench where he often sat or slept, Pytel said.
The victim, David Henry Breaux, 50, was well known in the area for more than a decade as the “Compassion Guy”, said the mayor and city council members in a statement. Breaux often greeted people and asked for their views on compassion.
The second stabbing occurred Saturday around 9.15pm when a resident heard a disturbance and went outside to find a young man at Sycamore Park with multiple stab wounds. Authorities identified the victim as Karim Abou Najm, 20, a student at the university and a graduate of Davis high school.
In Monday’s stabbing, the suspect was spotted by several people at a homeless encampment before stabbing the woman several times through her tent, the police chief said. The woman, whom police have not identified, is hospitalized and in critical condition. She is in her 60s, said Davis Lt Dan Beckwith.
Pytel said he believes all the attacks occurred at night and urged residents to be vigilant of their surroundings and to look out for one another.
He said the department is scouring through hundreds of tips and searching for DNA evidence.
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