MANATEE — Some Bradenton residents were stunned to find out Thursday that a man they knew briefly was the suspect in a stabbing spree that left five men dead and 13 others wounded from Michigan to Ohio to Virginia.
Elias Abuelazam, 33, lived in unit No. 321 at Fountain Lake of Bradenton condominiums, 5580 Fountain Lake Circle, from March 9 through May 18, said Dave Bristow, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Abuelazam was arrested Thursday in Atlanta after attempting to catch a flight to Israel.
The home address listed for Abuelazam on the arrest warrant is Fountain Lake.
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Jorge Diaz, who lived a few doors down from Abuelazam, threw his hands upward to describe both the size of Abuelazam in body and personality.
“Big, huge, tall man, with muscles bulging from working out,” Diaz said. “But also friendly, always smiling.”
Diaz said he can’t believe the man he went dog walking with is the same man accused of stabbing people and leaving them for dead.
“He used to be a nice guy,” Diaz said. “We walked our dogs together. We talked a lot. He told me he was from Israel. I know he had a girlfriend.”
Rob Schulz, another neighbor, didn’t know Abuelazam, but said Fountain Lake is a quiet place to live.
“I am surprised by this,” Schulz said. “But crazy people live everywhere.”
Glenn Rasmussen, who lives in unit next door, was not familiar with Abuelazam.
“I can’t ever recall seeing him,” Rasmussen said. “There’s a lot of turnover.”
Fountain Lake is officially a condominium, but due to slumping condo sales, the one- and two-bedroom units are being rented out from $599 to $899 a month depending on the size, said Richard Carlson, owner/developer of Fountain Lake, which consists of 201 units built around an eight-acre lake.
Carlson said Abuelazam came into the office in May and asked to be excused from his 12-month lease.
He was told he had to pay an early termination penalty, which he did with no questions asked, Carlson said.
“I think he just said he was moving,” Carlson said. “What’s odd about all this is that he was here only two months. It wasn’t as though he hung his hat here for years. I didn’t know him personally, but if there had been a problem, one of my managers would have said, ‘We have a situation here,’ which never happened.”
Abuelazam passed national and state credit, criminal and sexual predator checks before he was allowed to rent at Fountain Lake, Carlson said.
The background checks only turned up some speeding tickets, he said.
“The point I would like to get through is that we do an extensive background check here,” Carlson said.
Carlson’s hectic day started Thursday with phone calls about Abuelazam from around the nation and ended with a visit by FBI agents.
“We gave them everything they asked,” Carlson said. “They wanted his leasing information.”
The FBI told the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office it was going to search Abuelazam’s former apartment, said Dave Bristow, a sheriff’s office spokesman. As of Thursday night, it was not known what the search turned up.
— Herald reporter Duane Marsteller contributed to this report.