This past week has been a very difficult time for our community in Davis, and this is a difficult local news event to write about here. This is the ‘Compassion Corner’, where 3rd Street meets C Street, so called because of the Compassion Bench, a colourful ceramic bench built about a decade ago at the place where David Breaux, known locally as the ‘Compassion Guy’, would stand and talk to people about compassion, empathy, understanding. He had this idea, to bring awareness about compassion to people, aksing them to write into his notebook what they felt compassion to be. I passed him many times in the street over the years; I never spoke to him myself. On the lunchtime of Thursday April 27, we all got a notification on our phones about police activity in Central Park, and to avoid the area. That was very unusual. I didn’t discover until later that evening that a man had been murdered, and it was David Breaux, found on a bench in the park. He’d been stabbed; we didn’t know when, or any of the circumstances. He was 50. The community was in shock, David was well loved.
Two days after David’s murder, on Saturday evening, our phones went off again, this time there was a ‘disturbance’ in a different park, Sycamore Park. A 20 year old UC Davis student, Karim Abou Najm, was cycling back from an undergrad awards event when he was attacked with a knife, and died at the scene. Witnesses saw the person who did it escape. The city was in shock, people were anxious about being out at night, though it wasn’t clear the cases were related. Then on Monday night our phones went off again at about 1am, another knife attack, this time a woman at a homeless camp near the train tracks; the victim, a woman named Kimberlee, survived; witnesses saw the suspect escape. The police searched everywhere, the FBI were called in, and the community was in a state of alarm at the thought of a serial killer among us. This was a very real situation, nobody knew what would happen next. In an effort to discourage people from being out after dark, UC Davis announced that classes after 6pm would be held remotely, while shops and restaurants downtown all started closing by 8pm.
I went down to the corner of 3rd and C on Wednesday to look at the tributes laid out for David Breaux at the Compassion Bench. There was a news reporter there with a camera, wanting to talk to people who knew David. I said I didn’t really want to say much, not having known him myself, but I’ll be sketching the tributes. I realized I had actually forgotten my pens, left them in my office; none of us have been really sleeping much this week, and my mind was really not 100%. So I went to the Paint Chip and bought a new pencil and pen (a Micron 05 in sepia, not my usual pen these days but still nothing like drawing with a fresh micron pen). As I sketched, people stopped for a while by the bench, some leaving tributes, others just deep in thought.
I was going to draw just the bench itself, but decided to draw the whole scene as a panorama. It was important to show the context, show this place in connection to the city around it, a street I have drawn so many times. The same day I was sketching this, it was announced that a person of interest had been taken into custody by police following a report of an individual matching the witness description, right down to the actual clothes worn, who was hanging around at the site of the second murder, where many tributes had been left. The next day, police announced that an arrest had been made, and that the suspect was a 21 year old male who had been expelled from UC Davis the week before, two days before the horrifying murder of David Breaux. The city and campus breathed a collective sigh of relief, but there remain feelings of sadness, exhaustion, shock. It’s difficult for me to fully understand it all. The Davis Enterprise has been doing some amazing reporting on the case, the journalist Lauren Keene always does a great job at keeping us informed: https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/local/breaking-suspect-21-arrested-in-davis-serial-stabbings/. David Breaux spoke to everyone about compassion, and his message is being more widely heard now, at a testing time.
You can learn more about David Breaux’s compassion initiative here: https://charterforcompassion.org/11eleven-project/david-h-breaux-compassion-initiative. Last Sunday a large group gathered to pay tribute in a vigil
For Karim Abou Najm, hundreds attended a service for him at UC Davis last Friday afternoon. I know faculty who knew him, and he had a bright future, taken from him. However he was a great inspiration as well. A special fund has been set up by UC Davis in his name to raise funds for Undergraduate Student Research Awards. You can learn more and donate to those here: https://give.ucdavis.edu/VCSA/125342 .