FLINT, Mich. – Police have a man in custody in connection with the serial stabbings that left as many as five dead, officials said Thursday morning.
The man was arrested Wednesday evening at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, airport spokesman Al Snedeker said Thursday morning.
Authorities say the person likely responsible for the spree may have attacked 16 men in Flint, three in Leesburg, Va., and one in Toledo, Ohio.
According to Flint court records, Judge Tracy Collier-Nix signed a warrant Thursday charging Elias Abuelazam with assault with intent to murder in the July 27 stabbing of Antwione Marshall.
Abuelazam, who has “strong ties” to the Flint and Leesburg, Va., areas was arrested after “one of the tips developed into a strong investigative lead,” Leesburg, Va., police spokesman Chris Jones said in a statement Thursday morning.
He’s being held on unrelated charges, according to Jones.
Abuelazam was scheduled to board Delta’s 10:15 p.m. flight to Tel Aviv from Atlanta, airline officials said Thursday morning.
But he was taken into custody prior to boarding the flight, Sandra Hasegawa with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday morning.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection worked with the FBI, Michigan State Police, and Atlanta Police Department and was able to identify him before the plane took off, she said.
Michigan State Police let the Atlanta Police Department know that Abuelazam might be in the Atlanta area, Major Keith Meadows with the Atlanta Police Department said. Police at the airport saw something matching the description of the suspect, he said.
Abuelazam is now at the City of Atlanta Pretrial Detention Facility, Meadows said.
Michigan State Police will take control of the investigation from this point, he said.
Police raided a home at the corner of Maryland and Riegle in Flint late Wednesday – a tri-level brick house with white aluminum siding, cut grass and slightly overgrown bushes. There didn’t appear to be much inside the house; for example, the kitchen only had a few small appliances. The raid continued until Thursday morning.
On the trash outside the home next door, a brown box with Reebok shoes inside had a shipping label with Abuelazam’s name printed on it.
If the home on Maryland Avenue is indeed where the serial killer lived, he struck first close to home.
The first attack, the May 24 fatal stabbing of David Motley, was about a third of a mile away – just a few blocks – at the intersection of Leith Street and North Dexter.
Police said the people that live in the house next door own the home that was raided.
Neighbors said they had seen a green GMC Jimmy-type of vehicle at the house on the 3700 block of Maryland until recently.
Neighbor Janet Hutchinson said the man who lived in the house kept to himself, though it’s a tight-knit block with neighbors recently forming a neighborhood watch after several recent home break-ins done by kids in the area.
“It’s a total shock,” she said of the possibility that she was living a couple of houses away from the suspected killer.
Neighbor Carrie Strang said she last saw a green GMC Jimmy with gold trim around the bottom “right after they came out with the description of it.”
She said she and other neighbors had said they didn’t think to notify police, because the sketch and description was of a white man and the man who lived in this house was of Middle-Eastern descent.
Barbara Motley-Embry said Thursday morning she was relieved at the news of the arrest. Her son David Motley, 31, was killed May 24 and is believed to be the first man killed by the slasher.
“It makes me feel a lot better, and a lot safer for everyone,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s him.”
She noted that her son walked with a noticeable limp after leg surgery from an automobile crash two years ago. She said that made him vulnerable and likely unable to outrun his killer.
Essie Abernathy, whose son Frank Kellybrew is also believed to have been killed by the slasher, said, “I’m very pleased that they got him. I just hope it’s the right guy. I’m hoping he doesn’t have any accomplices because that was a lot of people to kill and stab.”
A news release from the Flint Michigan State Police Task Force said that there will be a news conference in Flint at 2 p.m. EDT.
“This is wonderful news for this community that had been pushed to the edge,” Flint mayor Dayne Walling said Thursday morning. “Now, everyone can breathe sigh of relief. … Unfortunately, history books are filled with these terrible tragedies and it just happened to affect families here in Flint and I hope what everyone takes from this is that our police department and law-enforcement partners are ready to step up to any tough task that come their way.”
He explained that hundreds of tips “critical to the investigation” poured into the toll-free tip line,
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold could not be reached immediately for comment.
Police had been focusing on that area until Leesburg police reported three similar attacks last week. Toledo, Ohio, authorities also say a stabbing in that city Saturday appears to be linked to the Michigan cases.