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3rd stabbing in a week near UC Davis leaves campus on edge as officials lift overnight shelter-in-place order

<i>KCRA</i><br/>A University of California
A University of California

By Tina Burnside, Cheri Mossburg and Dakin Andone, CNN

Officials in Davis, California, have lifted an overnight shelter-in-place order after they were unable to find a suspect in a knife attack late Monday — the third such incident following two fatal stabbings in less than a week near the campus of the University of California, Davis.

The startling order not to venture out followed Monday’s stabbing, which left a woman in critical condition. That attack was preceded by the killings Saturday evening of University of California, Davis senior Karim Abou Najm and Thursday of 50-year-old David Breaux at different parks near campus.

Following the violence, the university’s chancellor Gary S. May said Tuesday all classes that end after 6 p.m. will now be held virtually and encouraged all clubs and other student activities meeting after that time to do so virtually.

Attacks were ‘particularly violent and brazen,’ police chief says

Authorities are combing through hundreds of tips, but they have not positively linked the three attacks, which Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said in a news conference Tuesday were “particularly violent and brazen.”

Pytel highlighted the similarities between them: The two “particularly brutal” homicides occurred in city parks, he said, while the suspect or suspects in the second homicide and Monday night’s attack both interacted with witnesses. That suggests bold behavior that causes police “significant concern,” Pytel said.

Police received a call about the third stabbing at 11:46 p.m. Monday, according to a news release from the city, which said the attack “occurred in a known transient camp” around 2nd and L streets.

Police first received a 911 call about a disturbance at a tent there, Pytel said, which was soon followed by a 911 call from the female victim, who reported being stabbed. She was taken to UC Davis Medical Center, where she is in the ICU in critical but stable condition.

Officers from the Davis Police Department did not locate the suspect after a “detailed search” overnight of downtown, the department said in a statement. The shelter-in-place order was being lifted, but residents were urged to “continue to be aware of your surroundings.”

City officials described the suspect as a man with curly hair, a thin build and a light complexion between 5-foot-6 and -9 inches tall. He was wearing a black or blue sweatshirt, black pants with white stripes and was carrying a brown backpack.

The descriptions of the suspects in Saturday’s killing and Monday’s attack are “substantially similar,” Pytel said.

The suspect in Saturday’s deadly knife attack is believed to be a “light-skinned male, possibly Hispanic,” between 19 and 23 years old and between 5 feet, 7 inches and 5 feet, 8 inches tall” with long curly hair, city police in Davis, California, said Sunday in a news release.

The FBI has joined state and local law enforcement in a manhunt for the suspect, which Henry said involves every agency within the county with help from neighboring jurisdictions. Investigators are focused on analyzing the physical evidence while combing through tips, which quickly rose after police provided a description of the attacker Saturday, Pytel said.

“We are looking for DNA that will help us find the offender,” Pytel said at Tuesday’s news conference, adding physical evidence has been submitted to crime labs in hopes of finding a common thread.

Pytel also noted there is no city surveillance and no video showing any of the attacks.

Police promise ‘a very visible presence’

Police were alerted to Breaux’s killing last Thursday morning, when officers responded to a welfare check at Central Park and found the 50-year-old slouched over on a park bench where he often sat or slept, Pytel said Tuesday. The preliminary investigation revealed Breaux had suffered multiple stab wounds.

On Saturday night, a resident reported hearing a disturbance near his home in nearby Sycamore Park. When the resident went outside to investigate, he found a man — later identified as Abou Najm — with multiple stab wounds, Pytel said. He also had a brief interaction with the suspect, who then fled.

About 40,000 students are enrolled at the public university in Davis, a city of some 68,000 people about a 20-minute drive west of the state capital, Sacramento.

Extra officers were being deployed to patrol around schools and parks, the Davis Police Department said Sunday, adding it “understands the uncertainty, fear and panic that is arising in the community.”

“At this time, it is strongly recommended that the community remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings, and call the Davis Police Department if anyone acting violent, suspicious or matching the description provided is seen,” police said.

While Davis is not implementing a curfew, Pytel said Tuesday, it is “stepping up patrols all over town.”

“Our intent is to have a very visible presence,” he added.

UC Davis sophomore Henry Li told CNN the longer the search continues, the more seriously he’s considering leaving town, perhaps for the entire summer, or even transferring to a different school.

“Nobody should go into class knowing they have a risk of getting murdered,” Li said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Extra patrols also were added on campus and the UC Davis Police Safe Rides Program, which offers free rides and walking escorts to students on campus after dark, would expand, the chancellor announced Sunday, calling the student’s death “deeply unsettling.”

UC Davis Police announced Monday evening the school had enlisted additional personnel through a private Sacramento-based security firm.

Victim had told his sister to ‘forgive the perpetrator’

Abou Najm’s family told KCRA the 20-year-old was coming home from an undergraduate award ceremony when he was killed.

“I want this to be his memory: a bundle of energy, a bundle of positivity,” Majdi Abou Najm said of his son. “Someone who was full of ambition, proud of his roots, who just wanted to make this world a better place.”

The computer science major had a bright future ahead of him, according to Chipman, one of his classmates, who said Abou Najm “had a lot of opportunities, research, internships.”

“Someone got robbed of their future,” Chipman told the affiliate. “It’s just heartless, people doing things like that. Seeing someone that I know, it’s just felt a little deeply. It’s really sad.”

Breaux, the first attack victim, was a fixture in the community known as “Compassion Guy,” according to a statement from the mayor and City Council that said he regularly asked passersby about their views on compassion.

“The death of David Breaux is utterly and completely devastating,” Davis Mayor Will Arnold said. “Many of us knew David. We talked with him. We shared in his vision for a kinder world.”

Breaux’s sister said her brother had been on a lifelong quest to develop a collective definition of “compassion” and had recently chosen to live outside, in an area of Davis he felt safe in.

But he had told his sister he could be vulnerable to threats and once urged her to forgive any person that may harm him.

In a Facebook message Maria Breaux received from her brother in 2016, he wrote, “If I’m ever harmed, unable to speak for myself, forgive the perpetrator and help others forgive that person.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Natasha Chen and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.

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