A savage killing near a densely populated housing project was not launched by a mob of young men, as initially reported, but by three men who apparently knew the victim, Portland police say.

Police are looking for the trio in connection with the Saturday morning stabbing death of Frank A. Williams III, 37.

A witness who initially told police that a crowd was chasing the man across the Fox Street soccer field near Kennedy Park had misconstrued events, police said Tuesday.

Police also said that they have not positively identified the attackers, but they do have leads.

Deputy Chief William Ridge said authorities have determined that the three assailants and Williams knew one another, and that the attack was not a random act of violence.

He also sought to ease the minds of residents, and said there would be a limit to how many police officers the department could redirect from other areas of the city to the East Bayside neighborhood in response.

”We do not have information that that incident is something that requires an escalated police presence in Kennedy Park, ” Ridge said. ”What we’re looking for is three people involved in an isolated incident.”

The attack was reported to police at 1:40 a.m. A woman called to say a group of eight or more men in their mid-20s had chased Williams across a soccer field.

However, witnesses closer to the attack told police that the crowd gathered near the field appeared to have been drawn by the sound of the escalating conflict. The crowd then scattered when the three men chased Williams, stabbing him before he climbed through a hole in a fence along the field.

Williams died at Maine Medical Center of multiple stab wounds.

Williams’ family and former girlfriend said Monday that he had battled drug abuse in recent years, which police said might have played a role in the attack. They also said Williams had been involved in several assaults over drugs.

Ridge said it’s no leap to conclude that people who get involved in illegal drugs naturally deal with a criminal element.

”We know from experience drug addiction often leads to a violent lifestyle, ” Ridge said.

Williams worked on commercial fishing boats in Portland and was not a transient, his father said. Frank Williams also said that his son left behind a 1-year-old daughter in Biddeford and a 14-year-old son in the midcoast area.