Serial stabbing suspect revealed instances of violence and paranoia, friends say

A man suspected in a three-state stabbing rampage that killed five people says he won't fight extradition to Michigan to face charges.
By Caitlin Gibson and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2010

Elias Abuelazam appeared in a Georgia courtroom Friday and agreed to face charges in Michigan in a series of stabbings, while authorities continued to delve into his past and more incidents of violence emerged.

Abuelazam, 33, who has ties to Northern Virginia and Michigan, is suspected of attacking 18 men, five fatally, in Michigan, Ohio and Leesburg over the past 11 weeks. He was arrested late Wednesday as he was about to board a flight to his native Israel.

Although some friends describe Abuelazam, who once worked with troubled children in Leesburg, as a "gentle giant," others said there were violent outbursts and signs of paranoia. One friend said Abuelazam, who got along with colleagues at work, became convinced that supervisors were watching him.

In Ramla, Israel, where Abuelazam grew up and has family, a neighbor said he stabbed a man in the neck for no apparent reason during a visit this spring. In Virginia, his brother-in-law Joseph Farran called Leesburg police in November 2008 to report that Abuelazam repeatedly punched him in the face without provocation, court records show. Farran's face was cut, and there was blood throughout the house, police reported.

Abuelazam is charged in one stabbing in Michigan, but authorities there said they think that he fatally stabbed five men in the Flint area and slashed nine others. Leesburg police said he stabbed two men there and attacked a third with a hammer last week. He also is suspected of stabbing a man Saturday outside a Toledo church. Sixteen of the victims were black, one was a dark-skinned Hispanic man and one was white.

Leesburg police, who think that the attacks there were racially motivated, said they are reexamining an unsolved 2009 fatal stabbing that occurred in an townhouse complex where Abuelazam once lived.

Jammie Lane, 44, was found dead in his home March 26, 2009, with a single stab wound to the abdomen. Police said they have not linked Abuelazam to the slaying but are continuing to investigate. They said that the two men had "neighborly contact" and that Abuelazam had returned from Israel within 30 days of the killing.

Keith Carter, 48, a former co-worker, was shocked by the charges. He said he never saw a hint of violence or racism; Carter is African American. He also said he invited Abuelazam to a July Fourth cookout.

"Most of us are African American that he hung out with and worked with," said Carter, who worked with Abuelazam at the Piedmont Behavioral Health Center, now North Spring Behavioral Healthcare, in Leesburg. "I built a pretty good relationship with him, and I didn't see any of that. "

But one friend said that sometime in the late 2000s, he saw a change in Abuelazam. Charles Johnson, 37, met Abuelazam around 1998 at a Loudoun County gym. They worked out together and developed a friendship. Johnson, who is black and at the time also worked at Piedmont, served as a reference for Abuelazam.

For a long time, everything was fine, Johnson said. They would go to a sports bar after work, and Johnson introduced Abuelazam to his wife and children. But over time, Johnson recalled, Abuelazam began to bump heads with supervisors and complain about how the center was run.

"He was overly critical about other people, and he thought people were always talking about him. It seemed sometimes he was a little paranoid about supervisors," Johnson said. "And it started to seem like he was paranoid that everybody was watching him or talking about him."

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