Carlos Reales Dominguez, 21, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of homicide and one count of attempted murder, Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said at an afternoon news conference.
Davis Mayor Will Arnold praised the law enforcement effort.
“It’s because of the fine police work that we are here today to announce that the individual believed to be responsible for these horrific, brutal attacks is no longer free to terrorize our community,” Arnold said. “A murderer is off the streets, and our families will sleep easier tonight.”
Dominguez, who was majoring in biological sciences, had been in his third year at UC Davis until April 25, when he was separated for unspecified academic reasons, according to the university. He had no criminal record, police said.
Two days after UC Davis ousted Dominguez, on April 27, authorities found the body of 50-year-old David Henry Breaux, a Stanford University graduate who slept in Davis’ Central Park and was known around town for his gentle proselytizing on the need for human compassion. Breaux had been stabbed to death on the bench where he often slept.
It was the first of three attacks authorities attribute to Dominguez.
Two days later, Karim Abou Najm, 20, a UC Davis student who had recently posted to social media about his joy at finding a job as a software engineer, was fatally stabbed in Sycamore Park as he biked home from a university event Saturday night.
Monday night, a woman in her 60s was attacked as she slept at 2nd and L streets. She was alone when a person slashed the side of her tent, reached in and stabbed her several times. She was taken to UC Davis Medical Center, where she was recovering after surgery.
Dominguez, who graduated from Castlemont High School in Oakland in 2020, is expected to be arraigned in Yolo County Superior Court on Friday afternoon.
Dominguez could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone, his father said the family was in shock after learning from a Los Angeles Times reporter that his son had been arrested. The father, who asked not to be named to protect the family’s privacy, said family members had been trying to reach Dominguez for the last three days because they had heard about the stabbings and were worried about his safety. He had not responded, the father said, and they assumed he was busy with his studies.
In a subsequent call, the father said investigators arrived at the family’s home later Thursday to ask about his son.
He said his son had excelled in his high school classes, was beloved by his teachers there, and had no history of trouble.
“This is inexplicable to me,” he said, adding that he was unaware that his son had been separated from UC Davis last week. “He was so excited to go to Davis. I don’t understand how this could happen.”
In a blog devoted to a healthcare internship for students from diverse backgrounds that Dominguez had participated in during high school, he described his dreams of becoming a doctor to help people like his grandmother.
“I got into healthcare to help my grandmother — she has type 2 diabetes,” he said. “It makes me happy and it makes her happy, and I just love seeing her smile.”
Dominguez played football and ran track in high school, and indicated in a brief biography on the blog post that he was devoted to his two younger siblings.
The weeklong spate of seemingly random violence terrified Davis residents, sending a chill through a laid-back college town that usually bustles with bikers and joggers, its parks filled with dog walkers and the sights and sounds of youth sports.
After the third attack, the city’s cafes and extensive network of bike paths emptied out as residents hunkered down. The popular Little League canceled night games. UC Davis made evening classes remote, and some professors moved even daytime classes online because students were reluctant to leave their dorms. Businesses started shutting their doors early. The city’s famed farmers market called off its fruit stands and food trucks Wednesday.
Many people who hadn’t locked their homes in months began digging through drawers looking for their keys.
Fear also turned many residents hypervigilant; hundreds of people called the Davis Police Department with tips about the crimes. The police chief said Thursday’s arrest would not have happened without residents’ help.
On Wednesday afternoon, Pytel said, about 15 callers near Sycamore Park reported seeing a person who matched the description of the assailant provided by witnesses after the third attack. One resident followed the suspect and led police to him.
Among those who called was Carter Carlson, 23, who went to Sycamore Park on Wednesday to leave roses and a note at a memorial to Najm, the second victim. When Carlson noticed he was alone, he became more alert to his surroundings. That’s when he spotted a man walking toward the playground, wearing a black sweatshirt and black Adidas track pants with a white stripe — the same outfit the assailant in the third attack was described as wearing.
Feeling uneasy, Carlson made his way to his car and drove to a place where he could still see the park. As the suspect left the park, Carlson tailed him, while calling the police. After a few minutes, he said, police cars sped past and he later saw the officers questioning Dominguez.
“I’m incredibly proud of my community,” Carlson said. “I’m just so glad that he’s been taken in and it feels as though we can all take a breath of relief.”
The officers who detained Dominguez at the park asked whether he’d be willing to come to the police station for further questioning, and he agreed.
When they searched him, they found a large “hunting-style knife” in his backpack. The weapon was “consistent with one we were looking for based on evidence from the first homicide,” Pytel said.
Detectives spoke with Dominguez for hours. Pytel described his manner as “reserved,” but declined to reveal details of the interview.
The chief said physical evidence indicated that the victims had fought back, and Dominguez had injuries on his hands and wrists when police encountered him.
Even as the Pytel detailed the arrest, officers were executing a search warrant at a four-bedroom house near the UC Davis campus where Dominguez lived with several roommates.
In recent days, FBI agents and homicide detectives from around the region had streamed in to help the city’s small Police Department. Davis, surrounded by fields of sunflowers and tomatoes and orchards of almonds and peaches, is said to be so safe that many residents don’t lock their doors and young children frequently bike or walk to school alone. Before the stabbings, the last reported homicide in city limits was in 2019, according to officials.
With the mayor at his side, Pytel on Thursday called on Davis residents to “resume their life as normal.” But both men also noted that the city had lost two special residents, Breaux and Najm, and that a third traumatized victim remains in the hospital.
UC Davis officials offered few details about Dominguez beyond his being a third-year student who had recently been “separated for academic reasons.” The university issued a statement saying the administration was “partnering with law enforcement” and urged the community “not to rush to conclusions or speculate until all facts are known.”
UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, who attended the news conference, said he had spoken with Najm’s father, Majdi Abou Najm, a professor at UC Davis. In the days since his son’s death, the elder Najm has been visiting a shrine that sprung up in the park near where his son was attacked, talking to those who leave flowers.
May said he cried at Najm’s description of the searing turn of events: A father who should have been preparing for his son’s graduation was instead preparing for a funeral.