FLINT, Mich. – The first body was discovered in late spring, slashed and bloodied. Even when another man was fatally stabbed a few weeks later in this tired, rust-belt Michigan city, police had no hint of what lay ahead.
In the coming months, more bodies would be found and victims who survived stabbings in three states would tell police of a tall, muscular man preying on people who offered him help. Police now believe a man they arrested last week is responsible for at least 18 attacks, including five deaths.
Flint police initially didn't suspect anything more insidious than the city's street violence. When 31-year-old David Motley's body was found in a neighbor's yard at 6 a.m. on May 24, and 59-year-old Emmanuel Muhammad was discovered fatally stabbed a month later, there were few clues and no suspects.
There was little indication the two homicides were linked, let alone the possible work of a serial killer trolling the deserted roads of the unemployment-ridden, manufacturing city about 70 miles northwest of Detroit.
But after a dozen more men were attacked between late June and early August, a pattern began to emerge from survivor's statements: A large white man wearing a baseball-style cap and feigning the need for car help or directions was targeting men walking alone.
The description matched Elias Abuelazam, 33, who was arrested in Atlanta as he prepared to board a flight to Tel Aviv. He grew up northwest of the Israeli city, in a small Arab Christian community in Ramle, where he'd been a suspect in screwdriver stabbing earlier this year.
In the U.S., Abuelazam is suspected in 14 attacks in and around Flint, three attacks in Virginia and one in Ohio. The victims were men aged 15 to 67. Most were black, but investigators don't know whether race was a motive.
Leesburg police said late Saturday they were also investigating whether Abuelazam was involved in an unsolved 2009 slaying.
The Michigan attacks were over by Aug. 4, when Flint police announced they believed a serial killer was on the loose. If police suspected earlier that one person was responsible, they kept quiet, which doesn't sit well with some victims.
"I'd have had my two pitbulls with me," said Richard Booker, 49, who lives near Flint in Genesee Township. Booker — who was stabbed in his side, abdomen and forearms — was on his way to the store late July 19 when a man standing next to a green Chevy Blazer asked for help opening its hood.
"I'm beating on his hood, trying to get it open, he takes a Bowie knife and sticks it right in my kidney and liver. ... And then he grabbed me around my neck," Booker said, pulling up his shirt to reveal an 18-inch scar from his chest to his pelvic area and a smaller hole on his right side. He lost 8 pints of blood.
"He's a stone-cold killer," Booker said. "He knows what he's doing, he's trained in it. He knows where to stick you to kill you."
Antwoine Marshall, 26, was attacked about 3 a.m. July 27, when he was returning from the store to his nearby apartment in Flint. A man asked for help with his vehicle. As Marshall assisted with the hood, he was stabbed twice.
"When he was finished, he just walked off," Marshall said.
The last attack in Michigan was Aug. 2. The next day, the first stabbing was reported in a quiet suburb of Arlington, Va., about 570 miles from Flint. Anthony Kage Jr., 15, was jogging near his home in Leesburg, Va., about 9:30 p.m. when the driver of a passing vehicle got out.
"The next thing he knows, he feels this stab and this stinging, and he looks back and the guy is running back to his vehicle," said Kage's mother, Virginia Scott-Bey Kage. The teen collapsed at a nearby gas station. He had been stabbed, his liver and kidney nicked, but he survived after a three-hour surgery.
Two days later, Abuelazam was stopped in Arlington for a traffic violation and briefly held on an old misdemeanor assault warrant. Police impounded his green Chevy Blazer, in which they found a knife and hammer, but at the time they didn't have information to link him to the Michigan attacks or Kage's stabbing. He was released, and his vehicle was returned.
That night, a 67-year-old man was stabbed outside his apartment in Leesburg. He lost a kidney but survived. The next day, a 19-year-old man was hit in the head with a hammer in Leesburg but also survived.
On Aug. 7, a 59-year-old custodian was stabbed and injured while taking a cigarette break near the church where he was working in Toledo, Ohio.
Since then, no other attacks have been reported.
By Aug. 9, a Michigan task force had learned of the attacks in Virginia and Ohio and tips were rolling in.
On Wednesday, investigators went to a market outside Flint where Abuelazam had worked for a month. A store video showed Abuelazam matched the description of the suspect. He had not been seen at work since Aug. 1, when he told people he was off to Virginia.
Using electronic records, investigators tracked Abuelazam to Atlanta's airport and arrested him at the boarding gate.
Charged in the attack on Marshall, Abuelazam is awaiting extradition to Michigan.
Forensic profiler Robert Keppel believes the man responsible for the 18 attacks stalked and attacked his victims simply for a thrill, and he suspects other attacks preceded the spree in Flint.
"He's got a bunch of them. You're going to be trying to track him down in his travels, and probably every place he's been he's attacked someone," said Keppel, a retired Washington state homicide detective who profiles serial killers.
Although the absence of attacks since Aug. 7 has provided some solace for victims and their families, they say the mental and emotional scars — like the millipede-like staple tracks along many of their arms, backs, sides and abdomens — remain.
"It's unbelievable that somebody could do this," Kage's mother said. "That's the thing we're just trying to get past, but we're grateful that he has been captured so that he won't continue to do these bad things to people."