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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

On the one-year anniversary of last year’s stabbings, Davis community honors the life of Karim Abou Najm

The city and campus community dedicate mental health forum and bench memorial to Najm

By EMMA CONDIT AND CHRIS PONCE city@theaggie.org

On Monday, April 29, shortly after the one-year anniversary of last spring’s stabbings which left two dead and one severely injured friends, family and other members of the Davis community gathered in Sycamore Park to discuss mental health and commemorate the life of Karim Abou Najm.

Karim was a fourth-year computer science major set to graduate last spring. On April 29, 2023, he was the victim of the second fatal stabbing which occurred at Sycamore Park, the same place this year’s memorial was held. 

Karim’s father, Majdi About Najm, who is an associate professor of soil biophysics at UC Davis, reflected on the past year. 

“We all lost someone dear on April 29,” Majdi said. “In about an hour, it will have been one year. To me and to many here, time stopped at that moment. Is it one year? At least that’s what the calendar says.”

The city dedicated a bench memorial to Karim, named a bike path after him and announced an art piece to be made next to the bench. The UC Davis Marching Band played some of Karim’s favorite songs in his honor, including “Imagine” by John Lennon. 

The group stood around the site where Karim was stabbed last year. A plaque on the bench reads words written by Nadine Yehya, Karim’s mother. 

“May the trees whisper his name and the birds sing his glory,” the plaque reads. “May the stars shine his light and the hearts carry his story.” 

Mary Croughan, UC Davis provost and executive vice chancellor, attended the event and spoke about Karim.

“Karim’s future was full of possibilities, and the positivity that he shared with others thanks to his very generous and very kind heart could have continued to make this world a better place,” Croughan said. “Losing someone like that leaves a hole in all our hearts and in the future of our community.” 

The evening also featured a discussion about mental health and the collective trauma that has been faced over the last year. The event titled “Let’s Talk: Mind Matters” was meant to open a dialogue about mental health.

Dr. Andrés Sciolla, a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis Health and the keynote speaker of the event, offered guidance about ways to seek help. 

“Resources are never enough,” Sciolla said. “Scarcity is the name of the game […] Seeking professional help can be very important. We know now that traumatic events benefit from early intervention. Any kind of community can show support.”

The “Let’s Talk” segment of the memorial was organized by the work of Sciolla and three undergraduate students: third-year chemistry major Jude Haidar, third-year human biology major Hailey Rosales and third-year psychology major Sydney McCan. 

“We started the event just to kind of raise awareness about mental health with [Sciolla] as a psychiatrist and speaker, and then kind of evolved into honoring Karim since the day that we’re hosting them as on April 29,” Haidar said. “So we will be honoring Karim, who unfortunately passed away that day last year.”

While none of these students knew Karim personally, they met with his family to discuss the event prior and how to respect his memory. Haidar shared that he and Karim are both Lebanese, which made his passing all the more personal. 

“We are both Lebanese,” Haidar said. “On campus, I have not met a lot of Lebanese students myself. So to know that someone from your culture and ethnicity, unfortunately, passed away due to those circumstances, it’s kind of like they’re almost a brother to you in some way.” 

McCan shared how it felt to meet Karim’s family and that she is glad there is work being done to help honor his legacy.

“It’s more personal when you get to know them,” McCan said. “It’s not just some story. And, I don’t know, at least for me, it was really heartwarming to see everything that’s being done to honor their son.”

Rosasles hopes that the event inspired people to look out for each other’s mental health. 

“Encourage supporting one another, and if you see a friend or someone who is struggling, offer them help or seek other resources for them or yourself too,” Rosales said. 

Vice Mayor Bapu Vaitla shared his gratitude for the memorial.

“I’m glad for this sign,” Vaitla said. “I know it’s just paint and steel, but it’s also a reminder of Karim’s joy. We share what we learn in the hopes that no one else will have to experience this sort of profound loss.”

Majdi shared that he felt time stopped for him the day his son died. 

“Time stopped for me on April 29, but the days kept moving and with them, as expected, many of the people we know moved on and expected me to follow,” Majdi said. “It’s like time wants to push me forward with the least disruptions to the space-time-continuum […] After all, how can time stop, if life goes on?”

He also shared that he knows they are not alone in remembering Karim. 

“To me, April 29 is not a space-time anomaly that will fade in another year or two when normal wins and life goes on,” Majdi said. “To me, April 29 should be a new start. And I know we’re not alone in this. Your presence here with us tonight is proof that we’re not alone.”

Majdi spoke about the kind of person Karim was and the difference that he made.

“Karim is a mind that luminated brilliance and a heart that spread positivity and hope,” Majdi Abou Najm said. “A bundle of energy. I never heard him say, ‘I’m tired.’ And [Karim was] a time bender; he challenged time and did so much with his short journey through our physical world. 

Finally, Majdi shared his wish for the community. 

“Never take love for granted,” Majdi said. “I ask that you please reflect on this past year. Try to count how many times you said ‘I love you’ in this last year.”

Written by: Emma Condit and Chris Ponce city@theaggie.org

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