A manhunt is underway for a young, black “Somalian” murder suspect behind a spate of stabbings in Birmingham city centre.
On Sunday night, police released footage of the suspect, whom the public has been warned not to approach, pacing the street shortly before 2am.
Dressed in black jeans, with a black hoodie and black cap, he had already stabbed most of his victims, killing a 23-year-old man.
Detectives quickly ruled out terrorism, saying there was “no suggestion” that it was a hate crime or that gangs were involved. They said the stabbings appeared to be random, with no obvious links between the victims.
A 32-year-old woman, who was stabbed in the throat as she was pinned up against a wall, and a 19-year-old man suffered critical injuries. Five others, aged between 23 and 33, received relatively minor injuries, West Midlands Police said.
As extra officers “flooded” the city centre on Sunday, four crime scenes were held throughout the day as forensic experts combed each area.
All my thoughts are with those affected by the terrible incident in Birmingham last night.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) September 6, 2020
My thanks to the emergency services who are working hard at the scene. Anyone with information should contact @WMPolice
But detectives have yet to apprehend the lone attacker who made his way across the city from north to south, covering around 1.5 miles, between 12:30am and 2:20am.
Along the way, from Constitution Hill to Hurst Street, he carried out four separate, violent knife attacks. After repeatedly stabbing his final victim, he strolled calmly away with nothing but a smirk for those who valiantly attempted to apprehend him.
No arrests have been made.
Chief Supt Steve Graham described the events as “tragic, shocking and understandably frightening.”
“Please be assured that we are doing absolutely everything we can to find whoever was responsible and try to understand what exactly happened,” he said.
“We do not underestimate the impact that these incidents have had on the city of Birmingham.
“We declared this a major incident at the earliest opportunity. We have worked throughout the day to trawl CCTV footage and speak to witnesses to ensure we release the best possible video and image of the man we want to speak to.”
When the first, frantic calls were received by the police control room shortly after 12.30am, there was nothing to suggest it was anything out of the ordinary.
The attacker had embarked on his brutal stabbing spree on Constitution Hill, just to the north of the city centre, where one man received a “superficial” injury.
He then moved south, walking around the corner to Livery Street, a bustling road lined with bars and restaurants, where a 19-year-old resident who was smoking was critically injured after the suspect approached him asking for a lighter. A woman was also injured.
It was from this second scene, that the ambulance crews received their first emergency call, at 12.40am.
From there, the suspect walked around a mile to Irving St, where more than an hour later, at 1.52am, stunned witnesses began frantically calling 999 with further reports of bloody and brutal attacks.
It was here that one man lost his life and another man suffered serious injuries.
Barbora Jurcikova heard a commotion outside her flat and came down to see men running around on the street, desperately calling for help.
She told Sky News that the victim had to be pulled out of a bush, and paramedics were "pressing his chest for a long time". Police confirmed later that he had died.
The suspect swiftly crossed over to Hurst Street, at the heart of the city's Gay Village quarter, where he was seen pinning the 32-year-old woman up against shop shutters before repeatedly stabbing her in the throat at around 2am. Two men received lesser injuries.
As panicked eye witnesses raised the alarm, he was chased by at least two men before unsuccessfully trying to hail a taxi.
Each of the four locations was quickly swamped with emergency crews.
West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) sent 14 ambulances to the various scenes, along with 11 paramedics, a hazardous area response team and four critical care teams.
It did not take the police long to piece together the varying descriptions of the suspect and realise that what they were facing was far from usual.
Nathan Hudson, assistant chief ambulance officer with the WMAS, said: “We had an attacker with a knife going round randomly stabbing people.
“We had an ongoing incident and didn’t really know at what point that would end.”
A security guards’ chatroom sent out a description of the suspect, warning local bar owners to be vigilant.
“The suspect is described as 5ft 5 in, a male of Somalia descent, dark skinned & wearing dark clothing - a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms,” it said.
Officers who were among the first on the scene at Hudson St chased after one man and made an arrest, before colleagues were shown CCTV footage of the stabbing from a local bar and realised they had the wrong man, one witness claimed.
Savvas Sfrantzis, 64, a bar owner who witnessed the attack in Hurst Street, described the suspect as black, between 20 and 25 and dressed in black trousers and a distinctive black hoodie with two white stripes.
“I saw him stabbing the girl several times in the neck,” he said.
“She screamed ‘he’s stabbing me’ but everybody thought he was robbing her necklace or something.
“But I’ve seen it. I started screaming.
“He wasn’t concerned, he wasn't worried he wasn't panicking or anything. He was just walking. Smirking and just walking, slow."
As word spread amongst the revellers who had been spilling out of late night bars, increasingly panicked screaming and shouting pierced the air.
The manager of Sidewalk bar chased the attacker in vain.
Mr Sfrantzis added: “The guy said to him ‘I recognise your face and I’ll be reporting you to the police’ and he just said ‘whatever.’”
David Nash, who was working at The Village Inn on Hurst Street, said the suspect had strolled past the pub at about 2.20am.
“We heard somebody shout down the street 'stop him, he's just stabbed somebody,’” he said.
“It was a guy with a black hoodie on with the hood pulled up over his head, who was walking relatively casually. "As soon as somebody shouted 'stop him' that's when he ran off into the area of Sherlock Street.”
Five patients were rushed to the major trauma centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, three of whom had critical injuries. One of the three was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
Two further patients were taken to Heartlands Hospital and an eighth was treated for minor injuries at the scene. Families of the victims are being supported by specially trained officers.
As the city awoke to news of the horrific stabbing spree, a large crime scene stretched from Snow Hill to Hurst Street.
Several yellow police evidence markers, some near broken glass, marked out areas of interest. Two forensic tents had been erected in Irving Street.
A second small blue tent was visible in Barwick Street, just off Livery Street.
Around the corner in Edmund Street, officers had extended a cordon after removing a drain cover and sifting material.
Among the muck and debris could be seen a black-handled kitchen knife with a serrated blade, which was quickly removed by officers.
A short distance away was what appeared to be a trail of blood spots at the pavement in Newhall Street, leading down to Edmund Street.
Chief Supt Graham moved to reassure the public, insisting that the city centre was safe, despite the suspect remaining at large.
"Pubs and restaurants will remain open." he said.
"We are not saying that Birmingham is not a safe place.
“I can understand if some people are a little bit wary. That’s why we have got extra officers out today to provide that reassurance.”
David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, described the multiple stabbings as "very very disturbing."
He warned that the coronavirus pandemic had caused a lot of "pent up feelings" with people being stuck at home and unsure about their jobs and future.
He said it was "almost inevitable that we would see the growth of violence especially among younger people and males."
"It is a regrettable awful incident and we hope it will not deter people from coming into the city to work and shop," he added.
Boris Johnson tweeted: "All my thoughts are with those affected by the terrible incident in Birmingham last night."
Home Secretary Priti Patel also said "all her thoughts" were with people affected by the "shocking incident" in the city.