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.”
Help for domestic violence victims
—SafeNest: 24/7 hotline at 702-646-4981 or online chat at www.safenest.org
—The Shade Tree: 702-385-0072