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Man suspected as 'Flint serial killer' tried to settle in Northern Virginia

Anonymous tip

Officials say, Elias Abuelazam, a suspect in a string of 18 stabbings that terrorized people across three states and left five dead has been arrested in front of startled passengers at an airport gate as he tried to board a plane for Israel. (Aug. 12)

Authorities said that an anonymous tip to a Michigan police hotline Wednesday led them to Abuelazam, who apparently suspected authorities were on to him. He stashed his distinctive dark-green Chevy S-10 Blazer behind a shed at a Michigan home and hopped a flight to Lexington, Ky., a law enforcement source said. From there, he flew to Atlanta, where he was heading to Tel Aviv.

The string of unprovoked attacks began May 24 when 31-year-old David Motley was stabbed to death in Flint. There were two stabbings in June, but the violence escalated late last month. Police didn't link the cases at first, partly because the attacks were random and occurred in different jurisdictions. But eventually they saw a pattern.

Police think the attacker went to Virginia early this month. On Aug. 3, 15-year-old Anthony Kage was jogging in Leesburg when a man stabbed him in the back without saying a word.

Two days later and a short distance away, a 67-year-old man sitting on the stoop outside his apartment was stabbed by a person thought by police to be the same assailant. Last Friday, a 19-year-old man was in a Leesburg parking lot when someone asked for help fixing his Chevrolet Blazer. When the teenager approached, the man struck him on the head with a hammer.

That attack was recorded by a security camera, providing investigators with a break in the case: an image of both the suspect and vehicle. Leesburg detectives noticed similarities to the Michigan cases. Authorities put out a public plea for help in finding the Blazer.

A source said the anonymous tipster, acting on information that included the vehicle description, led police to someone associated with Abuelazam. That led police to the liquor store where he worked in Michigan. Co-workers told police he hadn't been at work for a while because he was visiting family in Virginia.

A traffic stop in Arlington County last week also helped authorities tie the case together. Abuelazam was stopped on Walter Reed Drive at 1:15 a.m. Aug. 5. When he was pulled over, Arlington police saw that he had an outstanding misdemeanor assault warrant from Leesburg. That warrant had nothing to do with the stabbings, and Arlington police had no reason to suspect Abuelazam as the serial stabber, spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said, pointing out that there was not yet a lookout for the Blazer.

Abuelazam appeared before a magistrate on the outstanding warrant, police said. He was released on his own recognizance. Just after 6 a.m. that day, police think he approached a Leesburg man sitting on an apartment stoop and, without saying a word, stabbed him in the back.

Arlington police noted the contents of the SUV and found a knife and a hammer.

Minor offenses

None of the people in the United States closest to Abuelazam would say much about him. His sister in Leesburg declined to comment. Officials at the mental facility where he worked did not return phone calls. Media reports and law enforcement sources indicated that his family is from Ramlah, in central Israel. His mother lives there; his father is dead.

One of Abuelazam's former mothers-in-law, Kimberly Hirth, said her daughter and Abuelazam were married for three years before "she divorced him" in 2007.

Asked about Abuelazam's behavior during the marriage, Hirth, who lives in Crowley, Tex., near Fort Worth, said repeatedly, "He was just the sweetest guy." She said Abuelazam was separated from her daughter and living in Leesburg "when she sent him the divorce papers" from Texas in 2007.

Her daughter, Jessica Nimitz, who has remarried and lives in Texas, declined to be interviewed.

That marriage was at least his second. Divorce records in Fairfax show that Abuelazam married Dawn Costello in Virginia in 1997. They separated in 2000 and were divorced in 2002.

At the former Piedmont Behavioral Health Center, Abuelazam was a "mental health technician," according to public records related to a workers' compensation claim that he filed but lost.

Abuelazam had a series of minor offenses in Northern Virginia, according to court records. In 2008, he was convicted of lying on a handgun permit application and served about a month in jail, said Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney James Plowman. He said Abuelazam failed to disclose a 1995 fraud charge from California.

Staff writers Paul Duggan, Mary Pat Flaherty and Debbi Wilgoren, correspondent Joel Greenberg in Israel and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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