At a news conference on Thursday in Davis, with the city’s mayor and the UC Davis chancellor at his side, Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel announced, “We’ve made an arrest.”
A former UC Davis student, Carlos Reales Dominguez, 21, is being held at the Yolo County Jail on two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide in three stabbings over the past week that have shaken the UC Davis community, prompting increased police patrols, a move to online classes and campus vigilance.
On April 27, the first stabbing victim was found in Central Park in downtown Davis. The victim, David Henry Breaux, 50, was known locally as “Compassion Guy.” He was a fixture in downtown, often engaging with passersby at his bench to discuss the meaning of compassion.
Karim Majdi Abou Najm, a senior at UC Davis, was identified by the county coroner as the second victim, found in Sycamore Park. Najm, a graduate of Davis High School, was a few weeks away from earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science with honors.
The third stabbing occurred Monday night, police said, when the attacker stabbed a woman through her tent at a homeless encampment at Second and L streets, leaving her in critical condition.
According to UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, Dominguez had been “separated from the university” in April. According to a statement from UC Davis, the April 25 separation was for “academic reasons.”
Davis, a quiet, bike-friendly town of 67,000 about 15 miles west of Sacramento, is not used to violence like this. The intertwined nature of the city and university, as well as the strong sense of community in both, has made the violent crimes feel personal to many residents and students.
On Wednesday afternoon, many of the usually vibrant areas on campus, such as the grassy quad, were empty and quiet, though students still flowed to and from classes during passing periods.
Sarah Sin, a third-year civil engineering major, came to the Coffee House on campus to meet a friend.
“There’s a sense of unease around here, but I see a lot of people still showing up on campus, so that gives me the confidence to be like, ‘OK, at least I’m in public, and I’m with other people,’” Sin said. “It’s less likely, in my mind, that something bad would occur because of all these eyes and all these people.”
Sin said she has considered returning home until after the danger has been resolved.
“I talked to my parents and they suggested I come back home, but I guess I … don’t feel like I need to. My housemate gave me a pepper spray, so I’ve been carrying that around.”
The basic needs center in the Memorial Union, a student hub, was giving out whistles. Sin’s friend, Paul Hupes, a fourth-year electrical engineering major, had taken one.
“I’m glad the school is handling it better than they did Covid,” Hupes said. “(Chancellor) Gary May sent an email the same day saying, ‘All right guys, online classes starting now.’ Surprisingly, I feel like since then a lot of professors have become a lot more accommodating.”
Hupes usually has a lab class that runs from 5-8 p.m., but it was canceled. “I feel like everybody has been handling it pretty well. All my professors switched to Zoom immediately, which is nice.”
When asked if their friends had left the area, Hupes said he knows three people who had gone back back to their hometowns. “One from my house and two from my general friend group,” he said.
Explaining that he came from the Bay Area, Hupes said it wasn’t uncommon for him to hear that “there’s a guy driving around with a gun.” In Davis, however, “It’s a small town. Since everyone is the same age it’s easier to talk to people.” He also believes that social media has made sharing resources and news easy. “It feels like there’s more communication.” Both Sin and Hupes credited the WarnMe app, which provides information via text and email to faculty, staff and students during emergencies and other urgent situations.
Alicia Peréz, a third-year human development major, usually walks or takes the bus to campus. But after the stabbings, she started getting rides from friends.
Peréz and two classmates were outside the South Coffee House on Wednesday, studying for a quiz.
“I feel like we shouldn’t be here right now,” Peréz said. “I mean if the FBI is involved, I don’t think I should be on campus right now.”
Sonia Virk, a third-year biological sciences major, gave Peréz a ride to campus, adding, “I wouldn’t be here unless I had to be. We have a quiz at 5.”
Both of Peréz’s roommates went home because of the attacks. She said she plans on going home too, after her quiz.
“I know some people still have to come for attendance, because it’s mandatory. I saw someone say, ‘My life is worth one attendance point.’ It feels uncomfortable because it seems like everybody is very normal about it. It doesn’t seem like there is a killer (on the loose). I expected less people on campus.”
To ensure community safety, the university took several steps in the wake of the attacks.
On Monday, UC Davis expanded its Safe Rides service. The service provides rides to anyone, seven days a week, as an alternative to walking or biking alone. From 5 p.m. until morning, on-campus rides are offered, and from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., the service offers rides from a campus pick-up location to any address in the city of Davis.
Then on Tuesday, the university announced all instruction after 6 p.m. would be moved online.
In a week full of fear and anxiety, the community rallied to provide support for those in need.
Homeless Outreach through Prevention and Education at Davis created an emergency shelter request form for UC Davis students in need of immediate support. The third stabbing, of a woman in a homeless encampment, ramped up concern that the unhoused community could be targeted.
Davis Community Meals also expanded emergency shelter bed availability, as did Fourth and Hope and Aggie Compass, three organizations aimed at supporting those in need of housing and support.
Information has been shared widely through social media, text message warnings and online. The city of Davis and UC Davis released a joint statement acknowledging the tragedies and providing safety guidelines.
The statement recommended Davis residents “avoid traveling alone after dark, stay in well-lit areas as much as possible, be aware of locations and situations that make you vulnerable to crime, travel in groups and consider a buddy system.”
An undergraduate student research award has been dedicated in memory of Najm. Donations to the fund will go toward a $50,000 endowment, which will exist in perpetuity, according to the UC Davis website.
“Karim was a compassionate, smart, and caring young man who left us too soon. He’s a loving son, brother and grandson. He meant the world for his family.”
On Thursday after the news conference, May said that the Najm family had a funeral that day and a memorial service would be held on campus for the slain student on Friday. When asked about his message to students, May said, “We appreciate the troubling nature of everything that they’re going through for the past seven days … and their safety is my top priority.”
Lev Farris Goldenberg is a senior anthropology major at the University of California, Davis and a member of the California Student Journalism Corps. Tanya Perez is the editor of the California Student Journalism Corps.
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