Man arrested in random knife slaying of UCLA student working at furniture store, LAPD says

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LOS ANGELES – A man was arrested Wednesday in the random knife slaying of a graduate student at UCLA who was working at a furniture store, police said.

Shawn Laval Smith, who police believe to be homeless, was arrested northeast of Los Angeles by the Pasadena Police Department after a nearly week-long search after police say the 31-year-old entered a furniture store with a knife and stabbed Brianna Kupfer, 24.

The killing unfolded Thursday while Kupfer was working alone in Croft House, an upscale furniture store in L.A. Police say Kupfer texted a friend around 1:36 p.m. and said she felt uncomfortable with a customer in the store who was giving her a "bad vibe," LAPD Lt. John Radtke said at a news conference Tuesday.

About 20 minutes later, another customer entered the store and found Kupfer. She was "lying on the ground lifeless, covered in blood" and pronounced dead, Radtke said.

Police said the suspect fled from the back of the store. Kupfer didn't know the suspect and the killing was a "random" act of violence with no known motive, Radtke said. Nothing was taken from the store and no one else in the area was attacked or injured.

Flowers are placed outside Croft House furniture store in memory of graduate student Brianna Kupfer. Kupfer was stabbed to death by an assailant while working in the store on Thursday January 13th in Los Angeles.
Flowers are placed outside Croft House furniture store in memory of graduate student Brianna Kupfer. Kupfer was stabbed to death by an assailant while working in the store on Thursday January 13th in Los Angeles.

Kupfer was a graduate student pursuing an architectural design degree at UCLA. She loved to dance and was a bright light everywhere she went, her father told the Los Angeles Times. A memorial was set up outside Croft House after her death, with large photos of her and dozens of flower bouquets.

"It’s just so heart wrenching," her father, Todd Kupfer told the outlet. "It’s torn us apart. We really don’t know what to do and what steps to take. We just want her life to have more meaning."

LAPD Chief Michael Moore Tuesday announced a $250,000 reward for information leading to Smith's arrest, telling the public the "individual responsible for this vicious, senseless and brutal crime walks amongst us."

These undated photos provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows shows 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith. Authorities have arrested a Smith in connection with the slaying of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer while she worked at a Los Angeles furniture store last week. He was taken into custody shortly before noon on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif.
These undated photos provided by the Los Angeles Police Department shows shows 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith. Authorities have arrested a Smith in connection with the slaying of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer while she worked at a Los Angeles furniture store last week. He was taken into custody shortly before noon on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif.

"As a father, as a police professional, as just a human being, the unimaginable pain that they must be going through losing a 24-year-old daughter, who had a bright and optimistic future and every promise of those brighter days," Moore said.

He said Smith had been spotted walking into multiple businesses the day of the attack and police say he'd been seen in various areas in the L.A. area and as far as San Diego and San Francisco.

The random slaying happened the same day as another unprovoked killing, when Sandra Shells, 70, was attacked at a downtown bus stop near Union Station.

Shells was on her way to work as a nurse at LA County-USC Medical Center, the district attorney’s office said in a statement. After being struck, she fell backwards and hit her head on the ground. She died Sunday at a local hospital.

Kerry Bell, 48, who is believed to be homeless, was charged with murder in Shells’ death.

The two slayings — which police say were both unprovoked and committed by homeless men — were concerning and displayed a troubling trend in Los Angeles, Chief Moore said.

He noted the role of homeless individuals as both "victims and suspects in the crime of homicides and shooting violence has increased year over year."

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore speaks at a news conference about Brianna Kupfer, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Los Angeles. Detectives are investigating the murder of Kupfer, a 24-year-old Pacific Palisades resident, who was killed in a furniture store
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore speaks at a news conference about Brianna Kupfer, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Los Angeles. Detectives are investigating the murder of Kupfer, a 24-year-old Pacific Palisades resident, who was killed in a furniture store

Moore said the deaths put on display the failures of the mental health system along with substance use issues and the lack of affordable housing across the state. He said the solutions shouldn't be centered solely with policing but a "comprehensive approach" that takes aim at stopping the homelessness crisis in the city and preventing others from becoming unhoused.

"We need to do a better job," Moore said. "These stats, these lives, are speaking to mental health, substance use, housing and ensuring that people who are a danger to the public are not allowed to remain on our city streets."

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Man arrested in slaying of UCLA student Brianna Kupfer: Los Angeles police