Ramle, Israel The man accused of going on a three-state stabbing spree in the United States was also a suspect in a stabbing near his hometown in Israel. But what drove Elias Abuelazam remains a mystery: Relatives describe a shy man from a respected family who had recently become despondent.
Profilers say the case is baffling because, despite five deaths, murder did not appear to be the goal.
Abuelazam is suspected of attacking people in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, leaving 13 people wounded in addition to the dead. He was arrested Wednesday in Atlanta as he prepared to board a flight to his native Israel, where relatives said he lived until his family sent him to the U.S. when he was 18.
The 33-year-old man appeared briefly Friday in an Atlanta courtroom and agreed to return to Michigan to face an attempted murder charge in one of the attacks — a July 27 stabbing in Flint, Mich., that put the victim in the hospital for a week.
Authorities said more charges were expected in the three states.
A family member in this poverty-stricken community said Abuelazam had become unhappy about his personal life in recent months. And others in the Arab neighborhood where he grew up expressed shock that the man they knew could be a suspect in the gruesome attacks.
“I wouldn’t believe it even if I saw it with my own eyes,” said Abuelazam’s 49-year-old cousin, also named Elias Abuelazam.
He said that when his cousin last visited earlier this year, he was tense, unhappy and unsure what to do with his life. The younger Abuelazam said he wanted to get married and settle down in Israel.
“He seemed confused,” the cousin said. But he said suggestions that Abuelazam was a killer were “malicious rumors.”
During Friday’s court hearing, Abuelazam was expressionless as he responded to questions from the judge. He initially said he wanted to stay in Georgia. But the judge told him he would have to return to Michigan if he wanted to fight the allegations.
After the judge explained the process further, Abuelazam agreed to waive his extradition rights and go back to Michigan.
“All right, then I’ll do so,” he said. “It sounds more logical to go right now than in 90 days.”