FLINT, Mich. — The uncle of a man charged in a series of stabbings that terrified a Michigan city last summer helped his nephew try to flee the country after hearing he had been involved in an assault, according to newly unsealed court records that provide details on the hunt for a suspected serial killer.
Tony Sahwany knew police were looking for his nephew, Elias Abuelazam, and helped him move his car before driving him to a Detroit-area airport for the first leg of a hasty, unsuccessful dash for Israel, investigators said.
Sahwany told police he became aware of an “assaultive incident” involving Abuelazam and tried to send him overseas because the uncle feared he would be responsible for “potential mounting legal bills,” wrote Det. Sgt. Patrick Young of the Michigan State Police.
Sahwany has not been charged with any crimes, and there is no indication in the court filings that he told police that he suspected Abuelazam could be a serial killer. But Young wrote that he believed Sahwany tried to help his nephew evade prosecution for the stabbing spree, and that it “constitutes accessory after the fact.”
The details are in affidavits filed to justify searches of Sahwany’s home and computers after Abuelazam’s Aug. 11 arrest. His capture ended a summer of terror in the Flint area in which 14 people were stabbed in a series of seemingly random, late-night knife attacks.
Authorities are refusing to publicly discuss Sahwany, other than to say he bought his nephew’s $3,000 ticket to Israel and was cooperating with police.
“The investigation is ongoing, and I don’t want to say anything about him,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said this week when asked if he was considering charges.
Sahwany, 61, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A woman who lives with him told The Associated Press that he was out of town and “doesn’t want anything to do with the press.”
The documents were unsealed Tuesday after the AP went to court seeking their release. For weeks, Leyton and his staff refused to ask Judge Nathaniel Perry III to lift the lid, despite a state law that typically opens the records to the public after 56 days.
“It is precisely in high-profile cases such as this that the greatest degree of openness is required to assure the public that justice is being done,” AP attorney Herschel Fink said. “There has been no showing that continued suppression is justified, much less essential, at this point.”
Abuelazam, 34, is charged in Michigan with murdering three people and attempting to murder six others. He is also charged with attempted murder in Toledo, Ohio, and suspected but not charged in three stabbings in Leesburg, Va.
The Michigan evidence against Abuelazam includes victims’ DNA in blood on his shoelaces and in his Chevy Blazer. He’s in jail awaiting trial while experts are assessing whether his mental health last summer could support an insanity defense. His next court date is May 26.
Abuelazam, a naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Israel, moved to Flint last year, got a job at a small market and lived next door to Sahwany in a house owned by the uncle.
On July 30, a 60-year-old man was fatally stabbed in Flint Township, the 11th attack and one that convinced police that a serial killer was on the loose. Sketches of a possible suspect soon were posted around Genesee County, 60 miles north of Detroit.
In his affidavit, Det. Sgt. Young wrote that Sahwany was “aiding in the flight of Abuelazam from prosecution for the assaults and murders in Genesee County,” whichis home to Flint. The uncle, he said, was aware that a man who had sold him the Blazer for Abuelazam’s use had been contacted by police in early August.
On Aug. 11, the day of Abuelazam’s capture at the Atlanta airport, a witness said Sahwany and Abuelazam sped out of their Flint neighborhood in separate cars, Young said.
They drove to a home in Burton, left the Blazer in a driveway and then traveled together to the Detroit airport in Sahwany’s vehicle, Young said.
Leyton and his staff suddenly had no objection to unsealing the court records when the judge held a brief hearing with AP’s attorney and Abuelazam’s defense lawyer.
“We researched the law and acted accordingly. I’ll leave it at that,” Leyton said about the shift.
“The additional pretrial publicity isn’t something we really want. We want to pick a jury in Genesee County,” he said.
Most victims were black, but race has not been cited as a motive. People who were stabbed have said their assailant stopped them on the street and asked for directions or help with his car before attacking them.