A chill descends on Davis as the probe into brutal stabbings intensifies

A police cruiser sits at a blocked-off street.
Police are investigating a spate of brutal stabbings that have sent a chill through the small city of Davis, Calif.
(Jessica Garrison / Los Angeles Times)

Amid a series of brutal and seemingly random stabbings that have left two men dead and a woman in critical condition, life in Davis is proceeding as if under a curfew.

In a town that usually bustles with bikers and joggers on almost every street and path, its parks bursting with the sights and sounds of youth sports, city life is suddenly eerily quiet.

The unease began with Thursday’s fatal stabbing of a well-known town character, 50-year-old David Henry Breaux, a Stanford University graduate who slept in the town’s Central Park and was known for his gentle proselytizing on the need for human compassion. Two days later, on Saturday night, UC Davis student Karim Abou Najm, 20, was viciously stabbed and killed about 9:15 p.m. in Sycamore Park in a residential neighborhood near campus as he biked home from an event at the university.


Then, Monday night, a homeless woman in her 60s was attacked as she slept near 2nd and L streets on the downtown edge. She was stabbed through the canvas of her tent and transported to UC Davis Medical Center, where she remains in critical condition.

Witnesses to the third stabbing described the assailant as a man 5 feet 6 to 5 feet 9 tall, with curly hair and a thin build, wearing a black or blue sweatshirt, black Adidas pants with white stripes and black shoes and carrying a brown backpack. A witness responding to sounds of distress in Sycamore Park after Abou Najm was stabbed provided a similar physical description of the assailant fleeing that crime scene.

On Wednesday afternoon, Davis police detained a man with long, wavy dark hair, wearing black Adidas pants with a white stripe, after a resident spotted him wandering through Sycamore Park and noticed the resemblance to the witness descriptions. A police spokesperson said the young man was detained as a person of interest; video from a KCRA news helicopter shows the man, who was not handcuffed, getting into a police car. As of Wednesday night, he had not been arrested, and authorities offered no further details.

Around the same time he was being detained, Majdi Abou Najm, the father of Karim Abou Najm, was standing a few blocks away in Sycamore Park at the spot where his son had been killed. A shrine had sprung up on the grass next to the bike path, with more flowers arriving daily. The elder Abou Najm, a professor at UC Davis, told a passerby he has been visiting the site daily since his son was killed, talking to those who leave flowers.

UC Davis announced Wednesday it was raising funds for a student research award in Karim Abou Najm’s name.

After a third person was viciously stabbed in less than a week, Davis police conducted a yard-to-yard search for the assailant but came up empty-handed.

May 2, 2023

Elsewhere in town, the streets grew even more desolate as the sun began to set.

The city’s popular Little League has canceled evening games. UC Davis has canceled evening classes, and some professors have moved even their daytime classes online because students are afraid to leave their dorms.


Meanwhile, numerous businesses around town have announced they will shut their doors early, or not open at all. The city’s famed farmers market called off its fruit stands and food trucks Wednesday. And people who usually feel so safe in Davis they haven’t locked their homes in months are now digging through drawers, looking for their keys.

Police, aided by the FBI and homicide detectives from around the region, were out in visible force Wednesday, but reported little about their investigation. A Davis Police Department statement posted about a half-hour after authorities had detained the young man in black Adidas pants did not mention the incident.

Police said that detectives were “reviewing numerous tips and leads” and that they had collected biological evidence from crime scenes and were analyzing “early returns.” They also warned that “a great deal of inaccurate information and false suspect images have been shared through different social media platforms.”

After conferring with witnesses from the second and third attacks, police said they lacked the finer details needed to produce a reliable sketch of the suspect. “A sketch that illustrates a misleading representation of a suspect,” said the department release, “could lead to the false apprehension of an innocent person.”