66°F
weather icon Clear

Breakup preceded UNLV student’s death, arrest report says

Updated September 12, 2019 - 5:34 pm

Paula Davis’ family told police that the 19-year-old UNLV student tried to break up with her boyfriend, whom she described as possessive and jealous, days before she was found shot to death inside the family’s van at a North Las Vegas park.

Over the four days leading up to her death on Sept. 6, Davis argued back and forth with the man, 21-year-old Giovanni Ruiz, who had refused to accept the breakup, according to his arrest report.

Ruiz, a UNLV graduate accounting student, faces a murder charge and is expected in North Las Vegas Justice Court on Monday morning for his felony arraignment.

He has been in custody at the Las Vegas Detention Center since his arrest on Tuesday, the same day detectives found a semi-automatic handgun and a receipt for the weapon hidden inside a suitcase in his home, according to the report. The date on the receipt shows that the gun was purchased two days before Davis was killed.

Evidence found inside the van and text messages recovered from Davis’ phone also suggest that the crime scene had been staged, according to the arrest report, and that Davis had been “murdered somewhere else.”

Davis and Ruiz had dated for about 10 months and were taking a break at the time of the killing, although Davis had been trying to “permanently” break things off for a while, according to the report.

In an interview with police, Davis’ parents, Sean and Kara, said Ruiz often “would limit Paula’s contact with other male friends.” And there was one friend in particular, the family told police, that “she was only allowed to see … a few times a week.”

The two had once even argued about Davis trying to join the FBI, “because she could end up getting a male partner,” the report states.

That possessive nature detailed in the report is a “key indicator” of an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship, SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger said.

She said that type of abuse can sometimes be more difficult to navigate, because it “can be so oppressive and difficult to recognize when it’s escalating toward a homicidal situation.”

“There’s often an over-reliance on the signs of physical abuse when thinking about domestic violence, even in our own legal system,” she said, “which naturally has an effect on society, that people only end up believing a situation is escalating if there is a physical altercation.”

Breakup text message

At 10:24 a.m. on the day she died, Davis, with the help of her cousin, sent a final breakup text to Ruiz, according to the report.

“Paula felt she had to break up by text message with Gio to avoid a face-to-face confrontation,” the cousin told police.

An hour later, Davis is seen on home surveillance footage leaving for school from her family’s home, “skipping down the driveway to her vehicle.”

In a telephone interview Thursday, Kara Davis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that her daughter was always smiling and dancing.

“She walked the way she felt, like you could see how happy she was all the time in her movements,” the mother said. “Even when she was leaving the house that day, she had a little skip in her step.”

It would be the last time her family saw her alive, according to Ruiz’s arrest report. Within 12 hours of the breakup text being sent, Sean Davis would find his daughter’s body inside the family van after tracking her phone’s location to Desert Horizons Park, near Simmons Street and Gowan Road.

“It was unimaginable,” Sean Davis said during the same phone interview Thursday.

The parents had reported their daughter missing to North Las Vegas police two hours prior to the discovery, after learning she had not made it to her 1 p.m. class at UNLV, police said. Paula Davis was an economics student at the university.

Born and raised in the valley, she graduated in 2018 from Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, a magnet high school where she was a musical theater major.

During her senior year, she had landed the lead role of Maria in “The Sound of Music.”

“She loved musical theater. She was always singing and dancing,” Kara Davis said. “She was very artistic.”

Outside of the theater, Paula Davis was devoted to her faith and spent a lot of her free time volunteering with Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, according to her father.

In her honor, the organization is renaming one of its programs, which is focused on breaking the cycle of homelessness and drug addiction, to the “Paula Marie Davis Medically-Assisted treatment program.”

“It will hopefully be a legacy for years to come,” Sean Davis said. “That outreach, the way she lived out her faith, it was one of the most important things to her. Paula was just a joy, and people were drawn to her because of that.”

Staged crime scene

Inside the van, Paula Davis, who had been shot in the head, lay dead on the floor of the vehicle. She had no clothes on and her backpack was missing, according to the report, leading detectives to believe that she “was murdered somewhere else, her bloody clothing was removed, and she was placed in her vehicle.”

“It is likely that her clothes were removed to prevent blood transfer onto the suspect when he was staging her in the van before parking it at the park,” detectives wrote in the report.

Homicide detectives downloaded a “complete” log of Paula Davis’ text messages, phone calls and “cell phone event activity,” described in the report as including when the phone was plugged in or unplugged or when it was locked or unlocked.

Those records show that Ruiz tried texting and calling Paula Davis immediately after she sent the breakup text, but she did not answer.

By 11 a.m., Ruiz had left his home, “and then a series of staged text messages followed,” according to the report.

“Gio sent text messages to Paula saying he was too busy to meet and he didn’t want to go out of his way to meet,” detectives wrote. “There were no messages from Paula asking to meet with him.”

Surveillance footage from a home security system near Desert Horizons Park shows the Davis family’s van entering the area around 1:30 p.m., about 15 minutes after one of Paula Davis’ “last phone activations.”

Detectives did not elaborate in the report on how they believe Paula Davis ended up with Ruiz that afternoon.

But, according to the report, in addition to the weapon and receipt found at the suspect’s home, investigators also located “trace evidence of blood in the shower” and ammunition.

‘Lethal phase’ of abuse

Sean Davis described his family to detectives as being “very close,” adding that his daughter was open and “shared things happening in her life with the family, including her relationship status and issues.”

Those types of conversations are important to have, said Ortenburger, the SafeNest CEO.

But Ortenburger wants parents of teenagers to take it a step further and have educated discussions about domestic violence with their children.

“For parents, I think sometimes it’s too easy to brush off the signs of domestic violence,” she said. “But it’s important to remember that even though they’re young, the depth of what they’re experiencing is very real.”

Paula Davis, for example, was caught in the “lethal phase” of domestic violence at the time of her death, Ortenburger said.

“Victims of domestic violence are most vulnerable to become victims of homicide when they are preparing to leave and even up until a year after they have left that relationship,” she said.

She added that younger victims are not always properly equipped to recognize the signs of domestic violence, whether physical or emotional. That’s why it never hurts to call or text a domestic violence hotline, especially when you’re unsure.

“Worst case scenario is that you’re safer,” she said. “That’s it. You’re not losing out on anything by calling the hotline.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
Paula Davis sings "On the Steps of the Palace"
Paula Davis sings “On the Steps of the Palace,” a song from the musical “Into the Woods,” at a Timeless Tonys performance in 2017. (Lissy de Jesus/YouTube)
Attorneys for Aryan Warriors request leaked documents
Defense attorneys for two Aryan Warriors members accused of murder and racketeering requested documents during a court hearing Wednesday after they were leaked to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Chance Underwood Preliminary Hearing Called Off - Video
Chance Underwood appears in court with his preliminary hearing called off but will have his hearing in October.
Man sentenced in DUI crash that killed former Metro sergeant’s son
Nineteen year old Alexander Brewer was ordered to serve five to 20 years behind bars Monday for a DUI crash that killed Garrett Meriwether, the son of a retired Las Vegas police sergeant.
Giovanni Ruiz, accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend, appeared in court
Giovanni Ruiz, a UNLV grad student accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend, Paula Davis, appeared in court during his arraignment at the North Las Vegas Justice Center. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Woman attacked, stabbed while sleeping in Las Vegas apartment
A woman awoke in her apartment to find another woman on top of her “stabbing her repeatedly,” according to Las Vegas police on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Rossi Ralenkotter appears in court
Ex-LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter appeared in court on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to face felony charges related to alleged theft of Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the tourism agency.
Chuck Chaiyakul appears in court
Chuck Chaiyakul,accused of killing a woman and putting her body in a 55-gallon drum, appears in court on Friday. Sept. 6, 2019. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judge denies bail for man accused of sledgehammer murder
Clinton Taylor, the man accused of bludgeoning a woman he did not know with a sledgehammer while she was doing her laundry, appeared in court Wednesday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Attorney argues for equal treatment for defendant - VIDEO
Attorneys for a Las Vegas man facing life behind bars for drug possession asked a judge this week to make sure he gets treated like a tech billionaire who avoided prison time in a similar case. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police beileve woman's body is in 55-gallon drum (Part 2)
Metro Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the media on a homicide investigation where police believe a woman's body is in a 55-gallon drum in the southwest Las Vegas Valley (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police believe woman's body is in 55-gallon drum (Part 1)
Metro Lt. Ray Spencer briefs the media on a homicide investigation where police believe a woman's body is in a 55-gallon drum in the southwest Las Vegas Valley (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Damion Dill sentenced in shooting of 11-year-old-girl
Damion Dill was sentenced to 50 years in prison Tuesday, following the shooting death of 11-year-old Angelina Erives last November. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas sledgehammer killing suspect ordered held without bail - VIDEO
Clinton Taylor, the man accused of randomly bludgeoning a woman to death with a sledgehammer early Thursday at a Las Vegas laundromat, was ordered to be held without bail on Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Members of white supremacist prison gang arraigned in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Members of the violent white supremacist prison gang known as the Aryan Warriors were brought before Judge Doulas Herndon for their initial arraignments on Thursday in Las Vegas. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man arrested in face stabbing incident - VIDEO
A man was taken into custody Thursday morning after allegedly attacking his mother at a home on the southwest side of Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigate sledgehammer homicide - VIDEO
Metropolitan Police Department homicide Lt. Ray Spencer talks to the media about a woman who was attacked and killed by a man using a sledgehammer, early Thursday morning, Aug. 29, 2019 (Sabrina Schnur/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police fired 6 shots to end standoff at Laughlin casino - VIDEO
SWAT officers fired six rounds Monday morning when they fatally wounded an attempted robbery suspect who pointed a weapon at officers following an hourslong standoff in the Aquarius casino parking lot in Laughlin. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review/Journal)
Off-duty Officer Exchanges Gunfire With Suspect
Las Vegas police Capt. Nichole Splinter briefs the media on a shooting involving an off duty police officer on August 21, 2019. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department/YouTube)
Paul Browning Released from Ely State Prison - VIDEO
Paul Browning greets his mother, Betty Browning, after being released from Ely State Prison. Browning served 33 years on Nevada’s death row. (Rachel Crosby/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Armed robbery suspect killed in officer-involved shooting at Laughlin casino
An armed robbery suspect was killed by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers after six-hour standoff outside the Aquarius Casino in Laughlin on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspect dead after officer-involved shooting at Laughlin casino
An armed robbery suspect is dead after a nearly seven-hour standoff the Aquarius Casino in Laughlin ended with an officer-involved shooting. (Mat Luschek / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Second officer-involved shooting of 2019 for North Las Vegas Police Department
North Las Vegas Police hold a press conference about the second officer involved shooting of 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Road Rage Homicide Suspect Van
Video shows a van Las Vegas police believe was involved in a deadly road rage incident on August 5. Police announced on August 26 that they have recovered the van. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police look for armed robbers
Police are seeking two men involved in an armed robbery Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, on the 7500 block of North Cimarron Road, near Farm Road. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police searching for video related to road rage homicide
Lt. Ray Spencer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Section is asking for clues from the public to solve a murder from Aug. 5. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Jury hears closing statements in killing of 17-year-old
Closing statements began today for Jaiden Caruso and Kody Harlan charged in the death of 17-year-old Matthew Minkler. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD to vote on shooting settlement
The Clark County School Board will vote Thursday on a $100,000 settlement for the mother of Dalvin Brown, the Canyon Springs High School student who was shot and killed on school grounds at the beginning of last school year. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police find 2 dead in northwest valley home
Las Vegas homicide detectives are investigating after two people were found dead in a home Friday night in the far northwest valley.
Teen talks about alleged sexual assault at Las Vegas grocery store
A 17-year old says she was groped and then sexually assaulted by a loss-prevention specialist at an Albertsons store in east Las Vegas. The subject's voice has been distorted to protect her identity. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Court hearing For 17-year-old Who Was Found Dead Begins - Video
An image that captured blood pooled near the head of a 17-year-old’s lifeless body appeared on monitors inside a Las Vegas courtroom Wednesday, as prosecutors gave opening statements in the murder trial for two teens charged in Matthew Minkler’s death.
Purse Theft Occurs at Suncoast - Video
Purse theft occurred July 24 at Suncoast just after 930 pm.
Woman accused of trafficking an 11-year-old girl in Las Vegas - Video
A woman accused of trafficking an 11-year-old girl on the Strip agreed to plead guilty to a child abuse charge, her attorney said. Gigi Mitchell, 40, faces several counts of child abuse and one count of child sex trafficking. The 11-year-old girl told social worker Felicia Tucker that she was a “hustler” and entered nightclubs where she drank and flirted with men.
Federal officials fail to keep criminal undocumented immigrants from reoffending
ICE and the DOJ courts say they are trying to remove undocumented criminals. But statistics show the courts are doing less than a decade ago. (Art Kane/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gragson crash seen in surveillance video
Newly-released video reveals more details around Scott Gragson crash, including Gragson arguing with a guard over allowing cars to follow him to his home. Video from a resident’s security camera shows the vehicle crash on a median. And police bodycam footage shows Gragson talking to an officer after the crash. (Grand Jury Exhibits)
Woman accused of stealing $1M from company makes court appearance
Donna Blizniak, the Las Vegas woman, who is accused of stealing more than $1 million over the course of five years from Nevada’s largest alcohol distributor, appeared in court on Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ex-Metro detective accused of killing her former son-in-law appears in court
Pamela Bordeaux, a Las Vegas former detective, who is accused of shooting and killing her former son-in-law, appeared in court on Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police address latest office-involved shooting
Metro police officials provided details on Monday, July 22, 2019, during a media briefing about an officer-involved shooting, which occurred on July 17 in east Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Steve Meriwether talks about his son, who was killed by a drunk driver
Retired Metro sergeant Steve Meriwether talks about his son, Garrett Meriwether, who was killed by a drunk driver. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas Metro Police holds press conference about Oct. 1 report
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo held a press conference on Wednesday, July 10, regarding a new report about the police department's performance during Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, 2017. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Surveillance footage of persons of interest in deadly shooting
Las Vegas police have released surveillance footage of two persons of interest in a fatal shooting at Desert Shores Villas. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
THE LATEST
Convicted killer Margaret Rudin awaits word on parole

An attorney for Margaret Rudin, convicted in the 1994 murder of her millionaire husband, said the 76-year-old prisoner could be paroled as early as December.