AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police have arrested a woman in connection with multiple stabbings in downtown Austin late Thursday night and into Friday. APD Chief Manley said the woman was transient and that she confessed to attacking five people.
In a press conference, Manley said officers were flagged down near East Sixth by a group of women around 11:24 p.m. They found one woman lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
The women told the officer they were heading downtown and were dropped off by a ride share on Seventh Street. They said as they were walking to Sixth Street they saw a woman walking in the opposite direction and waving her hands around. When they passed they said the woman turned and struck their friend in the back of the head. The victim victim suffered a large laceration on the back of her head as well as paralysis on her right side. She was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center.
At about 12:07 a.m. in the 500 block of East Sixth Street a woman approached an officer and told him she had just been assaulted. She said she was standing on the side walk outside Burnside’s Tavern when someone walked up and hit her in the back of the head with a solid object. Officers say she had also sustained a large laceration.
The victim said she saw her assailant running from the scene and recognized her as Raeshala Morris, 33, a local homeless person who frequently hung around a business she worked in downtown.
At that same time, officers were called to the corner of East Sixth Street and Red River Street. At the scene officers found a third woman who had sustained stab wounds in her shoulder and wrist. She said the a woman approached her, told her to be quiet, then attacked her.
The Real Time Crime Center used the APD Halo cameras to search the area of the three attacks and was able to find Morris and track her back to the ARCH where she was taken into custody. Police also found the knife believed to have been used in the attacks. Morris told police it was her personal knife.
According to the arrest affidavit, when asked if she knew why she was being arrested she said, “because I stabbed five people. When asked who she stabbed Morris said, “people you’re picking up off the street.”
Chief Manley said footage was captured from the HALO cameras of one of the unconfirmed assaults. Manley said he wants any other victims who were assaulted in the area to come forward.
If anyone has information about what happened or was attacked, they are encouraged to call the APD Aggravated Assault Unit at 512-974-5245.
Morris is currently booked into the Travis County Jail.
Chief Manley confirmed Morris is a transient known to frequent the area. Greg McCormack with Front Steps said his staff has seen Morris near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. He said it is clear Morris is suffering from mental illness.
“With the amount of people outside, this indicates a need for more police surveillance and presence,” McCormack said. “However, this is not a homeless issue. This is a mental health issue targeting our most vulnerable.”
On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott’s Office released a statement on the incidents, saying:
“City of Austin leaders have allowed lawlessness throughout the capital city that is resulting in violence against Austin residents, including those who are homeless. Last night’s tragedy that left three injured is just the most recent instance of this violence. This rise in violence has corresponded with the revocation of the camping ban that the Austin City Council passed in June. Public endangerment and murder can no longer be tolerated because of the actions—and inactions—by city officials. Mayor Adler and the City Council should reinstate the camping ban and restore the rule of law in Austin. The city’s gamble on these reckless policies has been a loser and must end now.”
Mayor Adler’s office also released a statement:
“Last year around spring festival time, there was a spike in downtown violence that was successfully addressed with a deliberate increase in police presence. No one linked that spike to homelessness and it occurred prior to the homelessness ordinance changes. This new spike in violence is a serious concern. I support Chief Manley’s plan to increase our police presence again downtown – it worked last year and I believe it will work again. Because there’s no demonstrated link, there’s no justification for changing back our homelessness ordinances. Community safety is our highest priority and we’ll stay with what has proven to work and that relates to the facts.”
“Coming here alone at night? Yeah, I would be concerned. Absolutely,” said Jennifer Brayall who is visiting Austin from Maine. She said she felt uneasy walking down Sixth Street.
“It overshadows the charm of the city,” Bryall said of the homeless presence near the sites of the attacks. “That unknown and potential random threat is scary because you are not sure how to prepare for it.”
Chief Manley said he intends to amplify APD’s presence downtown following this attack.
He has pledged 100% police staffing, more officers on bicycles and no less than 20 DPS troopers patrolling on horseback and motorcycle downtown. He said there should be a noticeable difference.
Others said individual safety should remain a personal commitment if you plan on going downtown at night.
“Go with a couple or a group, more than one person,” said Jerome Adams, who has lived in Austin for three years. “Just like every city, it has its good and bad. But you take the proper precautions.”
Bob Woody, the president of the East 6th Street Community Association and a business owner downtown for 35 years, said homeless violence has gotten out of hand. He points to the ordinance changes in the summer which has led to the flurry of violent activity.
“We’re not taking as good of care of the people of Austin as we could,” Woody said.
However, he said Manley’s pledge to add more officers downtown will restore order.
“We have a walking beat, horse patrol and a high presence of police. I think you’re safer here than anywhere else in Austin,” Woody said. “We push millions of people through 6th Street. We know what we are doing.”
A KXAN investigation last year revealed hundreds of people in Austin are threatened or stabbed with a knife or sharp object each year. But police are not actively monitoring stabbing trends in the city.
Police are not actively monitoring stabbing trends in the city, however.
“It would benefit us to be able to know exactly how many we have. But being able to take a deep dive in that data is going to take a lot of work,” said APD’s Assistant Chief Ely Reyes.
KXAN reached out following the first fatal stabbing attack this year on South Congress. APD told said five people were stabbed to death last year. Two of them involved strangers. Another two were acquaintances. And one involved a family member or significant other.
But they said they had not changed the way they track stabbings.