Stabbings leave California university on edge, prompt switch to remote evening classes
A string of recent stabbings, two of them fatal, in a Northern California college town have sparked a plea from police that residents remain vigilant and led a university to pivot to remote evening classes.
"The safety of our community is always our top priority," Davis Mayor Will Arnold said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We’re using every available resource to solve these crimes to bring an end to this violence and to keep our community safe."
The first stabbing was reported around 11:20 a.m. on April 27. Davis police Chief Darren Pytel said at the news conference that officers responded to a welfare check for an unresponsive man at the city's Central Park. The man, David Henry Breaux, 50, was found hunched over a bench with "very significant" stab wounds, the chief told reporters, calling it a "very violent attack."
Breaux was homeless and it appeared he slept on the bench, according to Pytel.
Two days later, around 9:14 p.m., a resident reported hearing a disturbance outside of his house near Sycamore Park. Police said the man went to investigate and found the victim, Karim Abou-Najm, 20, with what appeared to be multiple stab wounds.
The man called 911 and "had a short interaction with the suspect who fled," Pytel said. Abou-Najm, a student at the University of California, Davis, died from his injuries.
Chief Pytel said the fatal stabbings "were particularly brutal and violent and both victims suffered many, significant wounds."
The third stabbing occurred Monday around 11:36 p.m. and involved a homeless woman who said she was stabbed several times through her tent, according to the police chief. She underwent surgery at the hospital and is currently in the intensive care unit in critical but stable condition, he said.
The attacks led to the University of California, Davis, switching to remote learning for all classes that end after 6 p.m. Daytime operations are not being modified, Chancellor Gary S. May said in a letter to the school community on Tuesday. Extra security was added across campus.
The victim in Monday's slashing and the witness in the April 29 incident provided authorities with a description of the suspect. Officials described the suspect in Monday's incident as a man with curly hair and a thin build who was wearing a black or blue sweatshirt, black Adidas pants, black shoes and a brown bookbag.
Pytel told reporters that the two descriptions received are "substantially similar" to one another, but investigators are still trying to determine if all three involve the same perpetrator.
"At this point, we’re still determining whether the two are related but ... they both were knife attacks and the descriptions were reasonably close. Although there’s consistency, in some respect, with the first incident, we’re still trying to determine whether the first homicide is related to the second homicide and whether these are related to the stabbing from last night,” the chief said Tuesday.
Authorities did a search of homes in the area of Monday's stabbing, but have not located a suspect. A shelter-in-place was issued but later lifted.
Pytel urged residents to remain vigilant and encouraged a buddy system. He said the suspect in Monday's stabbing was "brazen" and had an interaction with several witnesses.
"That is particularly concerning and the suspect didn't seem to care that there were several witnesses that could identify him," he told reporters.
The chief added: "People have to make smart choices about where it is that they go and what it is that they’re doing and whether they’re able to pay attention to their surroundings. And of course, people should have a buddy system right now. I think that that’s an appropriate and reasonable response."
The police department said it has received hundreds of tips and is working with the FBI as well as other agencies.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com