A shelter-in-place order was mandated at the University of California, Davis, after a third brutal stabbing in less than a week occurred Tuesday. Fears of a potential serial killer on the loose have plagued the campus and surrounding city after the brutal attacks left two men dead and a woman in critical condition. Based on witness descriptions and the nature of the attacks, the suspect behaved in a ” particularly brazen manner,” Police Chief Darren Pytel said, “and that obviously causes us significant concern.” Two of the three victims were homeless: David Henry Breaux, 50, and an unidentified woman in her sixties. The third victim was 20-year-old Karim Abou-Najim, a UC Davis student. The investigation continues as police continue to hunt for the perpetrator.
By Shawn Hubler; May 2, 2023
A placid Northern California college town has been rocked by a series of stabbings in which two people have been killed and a third critically wounded in less than a week.
The police in Davis, Calif., a community of about 70,000 people west of Sacramento, have been asking for the public’s help since a 50-year-old man was found dead with stab wounds on Thursday in the city’s Central Park. Two days later, a University of California, Davis student was stabbed to death in a different park.
The latest attack occurred on Monday night, severely injuring a woman sleeping in a homeless encampment near railroad tracks just east of downtown. In a 911 call shortly before midnight, the woman told dispatchers that she had been stabbed through the wall of her tent. Witnesses reported seeing a man fleeing the scene. The woman was hospitalized and in critical but stable condition on Tuesday.
It remains unclear whether all three attacks were committed by the same person, the police said, but the descriptions provided by witnesses in the most recent two stabbings are similar. The authorities are seeking a thin, curly-haired young man, between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 9 inches tall, wearing a dark sweatshirt and black Adidas pants.
The Monday night stabbing triggered a shelter-in-place order in the city and across the U.C. Davis campus that lasted until just before dawn on Tuesday as officers scoured the community’s streets and yards with drones and police dogs, said Lt. Dan Beckwith, a spokesman for the Davis Police Department.
Homicide is “extremely rare” in Davis, Lieutenant Beckwith said. Data from the Police Department’s website indicates that the last homicide inside city limits occurred during an incident of domestic violence in late 2019.
“I’ve been with the department coming up on 40 years now,” said the Davis police chief, Darren Pytel, in a news conference on Tuesday as he urged the public to be vigilant after dark and avoid venturing alone into poorly lit places. “This is different.”
The first attack killed David Henry Breaux, 50, a Stanford University graduate who slept outdoors and undertook a yearslong project as “Compassion Guy,” in which he solicited definitions of compassion from the public, often at the popular farmers market at the park where he was found dead. Lieutenant Beckwith said that a passer-by at the park, which is a short walk from the campus, discovered Mr. Breaux’s lifeless body slouched on a bench at 11:20 a.m. on Thursday. Emergency medical workers determined that he had died of multiple stab wounds.
The Saturday attack killed Karim Abou-Najm, 20, a senior who majored in computer science at U.C. Davis and had just posted excitedly on social media about his research and pending graduation this spring.
The son of a faculty member, Mr. Najm was killed at 9:14 p.m. in Sycamore Park, in a more residential neighborhood that was also a short distance from campus, the lieutenant said.
“A resident had heard a disturbance in the park, and when they went out to check they found the victim on a concrete bike path and saw a man fleeing the scene,” he said. “The attack was similar in nature — very brutal — and the victim had been stabbed multiple times.”
The witness in that attack had briefly exchanged words with the assailant, and was working with detectives to draw up a police sketch, Chief Pytel said.
The back-to-back attacks have stunned Davis, an affluent, liberal community about 15 miles from the state capital that is known for its public schools, civic activism and extensive network of bike paths. “This is a town where people know each other,” Lieutenant Beckwith said.
“Everyone is worried and scared and in complete shock,” said Lucas Frerichs, a Yolo County supervisor and former mayor of Davis.
“David Breaux was beloved,” he said, searching for words to describe the community’s trauma. “He was probably one of the most peaceful, gentle people you’ll ever come across. Karim Abou-Najm — also peaceful and gentle. And promising. He grew up here. And a homeless woman, so vulnerable. And the violence of these attacks.”
Lieutenant Beckwith said that evidence from the crime scenes was being processed and that the F.B.I. and California Department of Justice had been called in to assist with the investigation, along with other police and sheriff’s departments in Sacramento and Yolo counties, including campus police.
“We are all hands on deck,” he said.