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Arraignment Friday in fatal stabbing near Santa Rosa library; victim ID'd


The man found stabbed to death late Christmas Eve in an alley behind the downtown Santa Rosa library was identified Thursday as Nicholas Bloom, 22. Police said Bloom, who would have turned 23 on Sunday, was homeless and known to Santa Rosa law enforcement.

A friend of Bloom's, who came to the scene of the killing to pay his respects Thursday, said he was shocked by the young man's death.

"I just can't understand why someone would do this," said Zak McKenna of Santa Rosa, who said he was a childhood friend of Bloom's.

"He didn't always do the right thing, but he was a person I could count on. If anyone was messing with me, he would have stepped in."

The man arrested in connection with Bloom's slaying, Vladimir Sotelo-Urena, is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon. Sotelo-Urena, 26, also was identified as homeless.

Bloom was found Tuesday night after police responded to a 10:45 call about a body in the rear alley of the Central Library on E Street. He was dead when officers arrived and had suffered multiple stab wounds, police said.

An autopsy was underway Thursday, and was expected to continue into Friday, while an investigation around the scene of the stabbing is expected to continue into the weekend, police said.

Police said that after canvassing the area, officers found Sotelo-Urena with blood on his clothing and hands and carrying a bloody knife.

He admitted stabbing Bloom, police said, and was booked into Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of homicide. Police still are investigating the nature of the contact between the men — how long they were together and whether there had been an argument.

"We've talked to a few witnesses, and we're looking for more," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Eric Goldschlag said.

Police said they had not had any previous contact with Sotelo-Urena, and his name did not appear in Sonoma County court records.

Bloom, however, was known to police, Goldschlag said.

Sonoma County court records show that Bloom had a few minor run-ins with the law: three misdemeanor convictions between September 2010 and July 2013 for vandalism, theft and a misdemeanor hit-and-run.

Most recently, he was charged in a September robbery. A judge dismissed the charges in November, and Bloom was released.

The homicide is the first in central Santa Rosa since Michela Wooldridge, a 24-year-old homeless woman, was stabbed to death and left on a Fourth Street sidewalk near McDonald Avenue on Nov. 1, 2012.

Tuesday's stabbing happened at a time when Santa Rosa has been grappling with how to manage and shelter an influx of homeless residents downtown, some of them displaced from areas near railroad tracks during recent construction and crackdowns.

The library, in particular, has long been a gathering place for homeless people downtown. Police investigators interviewed library employees about Bloom and Sotelo-Urena, showing them photos of the two men.

Reference Librarian Nancy Sampson said she recognized Sotelo-Urena. She'd seen him for the first time just recently, sleeping in the alley behind the library.

The library's interim co-director Jaime Anderson said Bloom's face looked familiar.

They said the homeless population at the library changes regularly and that it's common for people to smoke marijuana, argue or drink outside, but that serious violence is rare.

Still, they said, safety is a concern. In 2009, the library hired a security guard to enforce the library's standards of behavior, which prohibit illegal or controlled substances, harassment and threatening behavior and begging, among other things. The goal is to prevent bad behavior, not keep out homeless people.

"There are limited places people can go, and when we're open, we're open to everyone," Sampson said.

Both women said they saw a need for additional services for the homeless, as well as extra police patrols in the area. They said the library is considering extra lighting and video surveillance following the slaying.

"Santa Rosa looks at itself as a small town, but it has big-city issues that aren't being addressed," Sampson said.

A combination of factors, including an unprecedented lack of shelter beds, low vacancy rates in affordable housing and a lack of a jobs, have contributed to a more populous homeless population downtown, said Georgia Berland, executive officer of the Sonoma County Task Force on Homelessness.

Data from a countywide census show that homelessness increased about 25 percent between around 2009, when the recession began, and 2011. Shelters around the county found themselves at capacity as temperatures plummeted this fall, causing Santa Rosa to add 68 beds to its shelter at Samuel Jones Hall just before Christmas.

Berland acknowledged that there always are some aggressive panhandlers downtown, but said that violence is rare. She said efforts at solving problems around homelessness should be centered on providing more affordable housing, jobs and shelter for people.

Steven Dawson, a homeless man sitting on a sunny bench in front of a colorful mural near Ting Hau restaurant Thursday, said he also was surprised by the violence.

"I was shocked," Dawson said. "That's not how we behave out here. We police ourselves."

Thursday afternoon, the 22-year-old McKenna and another young man stood, heads down, in the library's back alley near pink paint that marked the crime scene. They were holding bouquets of roses.

McKenna said Bloom had been one of his best friends. "I was in Lake County when I heard (about Bloom) last night, but I came as soon as I could," he said, adding that he had basically grown up with Bloom. They attended the Boys & Girls Club in Santa Rosa together, and later, played Little League baseball together.

He and Bloom had drifted apart recently over lifestyle differences, McKenna said. They'd last talked about a month ago.

"We had different priorities; I wanted more success," he said.

McKenna removed his hat before kneeling and spreading out his bouquet of roses on the pavement.

Staff Writer Paul Payne contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com.