Stabbing at Point Defiance Park sparks discussion of public safety measures

With the return of sunny weather and an arrest made in California, Point Defiance Park has welcomed back an increased number of visitors to Tacoma’s largest park.

Nearly two months after the stabbing of a woman in Tacoma’s Point Defiance on February 10, a suspect was arrested in San Francisco, California on March 29. 

The suspect, Nicholas Fitzgerald Matthew, is being extradited to Pierce County, where he is facing charges of first-degree attempted murder. 

During the attack, the suspect stabbed the victim repeatedly, telling the woman to tilt her head back so she wouldn’t be in pain anymore, according to court documents. 

Onlookers kicked the suspect in the head and ran after him before he fled toward Owens Beach at Point Defiance Park. The park soon closed all entrances and exits as officers arrived, but the suspect escaped the park and was on the loose for seven weeks. 

The victim suffered numerous lacerations on her face and a skull fracture. She stated that the attack felt like she was drowning.  

The victim, who was referred to as Jane by police, stepped forward to address the attack on February 22, to describe her near-death experience suffered at the park in a press release with the Tacoma Police Department. 

“I begged him to let me go, that I could give him money, that I would give him anything he wanted if he would let me live,” Jane said to the Tacoma Police Department. “All I could think as I lay on the ground trying to fight him off was, ‘This can’t be how I die, there’s so much I still haven’t done.’” 

In March, detectives searched Matthew’s vacant Federal Way apartment, finding dried blood, along with a knife and clothing consistent with the attack, according to court documents. 

Tacoma detectives traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, believing he was heading there, and later discovered that he was attempting to flee the country. Matthew was arrested on March 29 at San Francisco International Airport while on a layover from Atlanta. 

Matthew appeared in San Mateo Superior Court on April 3 marking his first court appearance. Matthew had no prior criminal history in Washington and waived his right to a hearing for probable cause for his arrest. 

In the days following the attack, Metro Parks Tacoma installed portable cameras and hired security as a precaution, although it is unknown if those changes are permanent. 

Locals applauded the measures taken by police and Metro Parks immediately after the incident and noted their attachment to the location. 

“I feel like the way that it was handled and the fact that the guy was caught and the way that the situation itself where people responded to it gives people the idea that you can’t take it and do things like that around here, or if they do, it will be taken care of,” said Michelle, a weekly visitor of Point Defiance. 

Some visitors of Point Defiance carry personal protection to feel safe. 

“I carry a knife with me, but I have never had to use it,” said Michelle. “My confidence and being assertive make me feel the most comfortable, the knife is just there in the rare case that something may happen.” 

Point Defiance is unique to the area, with 760 acres of lush scenery, featuring a dog park, a zoo and aquarium, walking trails, picnic tables and seasonal additions like kayak rentals in the Ruston area. 

“It’s a beautiful park, it’s a wonderful place to go. You get exercise down there, you got nature, you have animals,” said Peter Sluka, the founder of Point Defiance Park’s Park Watch. 

The Point Defiance Park Watch is a volunteer program that helps maintain the safety of visitors and protect the park’s natural resources. 

Sluka has volunteered at Point Defiance since 1997 and offered suggestions for visitors on how to reduce the risk of being a victim of crime at the park. 

“Be aware, watch your back at all times because there are other people in there that will commit these same crimes,” said Sluka. “We have young people going through the trails, they have their earphones in and they are texting while they are walking and running. That is not a safety measure and the park needs to make them aware.” 

Sluka also had safety suggestions for the park, notably the addition of more cameras and police officers to the park. 

“For miles we do not have any, maybe one or two cameras around. It is not enough,” Sluka said. “We still need more police down there. The police should be able to go on the road and watch out for things that might be dangerous to the people that are in the park.” 

With summer around the corner, the increase in visitors to the park will continue, adding to not only the enjoyment of the area, but also the number of bystanders to prevent the chance of additional crime at the park. 

Picture of Puget Sound taken from a trail. Photo by Steph Caronna.