Once dark and empty at night, midtown Sacramento now draws thousands of people from throughout the region to dine in its growing roster of trendy restaurants or party in its nightclubs.
Early Thursday, the city’s urban playground became the focus of worldwide attention as the result of what police say was a late-night dispute between two groups near 21st and K streets – just down from a strip of popular nightclubs – that left one man in serious condition from multiple stab wounds.
Normally, such an incident would hardly merit a mention in the news, but Thursday’s stabbing victim was Spencer Stone, 23, the Air Force hero who thwarted a terror attack on a Paris-bound train in August with two childhood friends from Sacramento.
The result was a worldwide explosion of news reports on the Internet about Stone and his hometown, and a rapid response from Sacramento police to emphasize that the incident stemmed from a “nightclub incident” rather than Stone’s tackling of the gunman on the train.
“This incident is not related to terrorism in any way, and we know it’s not related to what occurred in France months ago,” Sacramento Deputy Police Chief Ken Bernard told reporters Thursday morning.
Stone was listed in serious condition at UC Davis Medical Center late Thursday. He suffered three wounds to his torso and was conscious when he arrived at the hospital, where he underwent two hours of surgery. Stone is expected to recover.
Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler are three friends who grew up together in Sacramento and were hailed as international heroes after they subdued the gunman, who was armed with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. They since have visited President Obama in the Oval Office and were honored by a parade in Sacramento.
Stone was the first of the three men to tackle the suspected terrorist, who was armed with an AK-47, a Luger pistol and a box cutter. Stone’s thumb was nearly severed, and he was stabbed in the neck.
The Sacramento attack was caught on security camera video from the A&P Liquors store at 21st and K streets. The grainy video appears to capture the moment Stone was stabbed during a wild melee in the street with several men. After one of the combatants lunges, a large, dark stain suddenly begins to spread on the front of Stone’s shirt.
A&P Liquors employee Bryan Romandia described what he saw on the video.
“It pretty much just shows the fight in the middle of the intersection,” Romandia said. “It looks like it is one against six, but you can’t really tell. It looks like a big old scrum and then it looks like someone lunges and everyone disperses from there, and there is this discoloration on his shirt and he just walks out of the camera.
“He walks away from the intersection. I couldn't see any weapon at all. You could see something on his shirt but couldn't really make out what it was.”
Police said the melee began as a dispute between Stone’s group, which consisted of a male friend and three women, and another group of two and possibly three men.
“It’s believed that Mr. Stone was out in the area with a group of friends last night when a physical altercation led to him being stabbed,” Bernard said. “Immediately after the assault, the suspects fled the scene.”
Police said they believe the assailants, described as Asian adult males wearing white T-shirts and jeans, fled in a dark gray or black 2009 to 2012 Toyota Camry.
Before the incident, Stone’s group was drinking at the Badlands Dance Club at 20th and K streets, according to a source familiar with the investigation. Bernard said officers had not yet spoken to Stone and did not know if he had been drinking.
Bernard would not give details on what sparked the altercation, saying police have an active investigation under way.
“The assault does not appear to be a random act,” he said. “It’s believed to be related to a nightclub incident.”
“There was a dispute that led to the altercation,” he added. “There was a conversation and then it continued down the block to where the stabbing occurred.
“It would be wrong to believe this had anything to do with the bar.”
The area is home to numerous popular bars, including Badlands and Faces, two nightclubs that cater to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Employees at those bars declined to comment on the record, but said they were cooperating with investigators’ requests to access their surveillance footage.
Police emphasized Thursday that they do not believe the incident was a hate crime.
At midmorning Thursday, police detectives combed the businesses along K Street between 20th and 21st in search of video. Police released a fuzzy photo from security video of two men they said were suspects in the assault and asked anyone with information to call police at (916) 808-0650 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP.
For much of the morning, a swelling media contingency outnumbered potential interview subjects on the block, where the Lavender Heights intersection at 20th and K had been updated the day before with rainbow crosswalks.
Police initially were called to 21st and K streets by a passerby at 12:46 a.m., and Sacramento fire paramedics rushed Stone to UC Davis. Authorities initially thought Stone might die from stab wounds, but doctors were able to save him. Stone’s parents were at the hospital Thursday, and the family issued a brief statement.
“The family of Airman Spencer Stone appreciates the outpouring of love and support. Airman Stone is in serious condition. His family requests that the media respect his right to privacy at this time.”
Thursday’s stabbing sparked a tidal wave of reaction on social media, with the Air Force tweeting, “Please keep him and his family in your thoughts.”
Skarlatos declined to comment to The Bee on Thursday, but posted his hopes for his friend on Twitter.
“Spencer is one tough guy,” Skarlatos wrote. “And only he could have done something like that and lived, yet again.”