Editor’s note: The Collegian does not name the suspect(s) in mass attacks or the threat of one.
UC Merced ground to a halt when a student provoked chaos and terror Wednesday morning after four people were stabbed and the police gunned down the suspect.
The incident began in a classroom around 8 a.m. A construction worker checked the classroom after hearing the commotion which prevented even more violence, said Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke.
The male student then fled the room and was pursued by campus police before he was shot by police and later died from his injuries, according to UC Merced University Communications.
The four victims included two students, one staff member and the construction worker.
“Events like this happen elsewhere, but not at UC Merced, which may be still small in student body but large in its sense of community – yet, it has happened,” UC Chancellor Dorothy Leland said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “As shocking and troubling as today’s act of violence is, I am thankful the incident was quickly brought under control by campus police.”
The campus was closed for the day and all classes were cancelled through Thursday. The campus is expected to return to normalcy Friday.
As of Thursday morning, one student remained hospitalized but is expected to recover, and the other student was treated and released. The staff member suffered a collapsed lung and was recovering Thursday after surgery. The construction worker was treated and released Wednesday, University Communications said.
During the suspect’s autopsy, a handwritten, two-page manifesto was found in his pocket, which outlined his motive – he was upset at several students for kicking him out of a class study group.
The student also wrote in the manifesto his planned actions during the attack, including the words he would have said to students, taking a police officer’s gun and the uses for the contents of his backpack.
“We do now have a motive and we also have a detailed plan of what he attempted or thought he was going to do that day the fortunate part is that we had some intervention with citizens, students, and a construction worker,” Warnke said. “His plan went haywire because people fought back.”
The attack is under investigation by the UC Merced Police Department with the assistance of other major agencies, including the FBI and the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office is overseeing the investigation of the officer-involved shooting, UC Merced University Communications said.
“There is still nothing to indicate anything, and I mean anything, that this is other than a teenage boy that got upset with fellow classmates and took it to the extreme,” Warnke said. “We are continuing this investigation, but we now have a motive and we do have a script that he was going to try and follow and the very fortunate part is that it did not follow through for him.”
The campus community is coming together even though the students, faculty and staff are shaken, said Brenda Ortiz, a University Communications senior public information representative.
Michael Eissinger, an instructor at Fresno State and a teaching fellow and a doctoral candidate in the World Cultures and History graduate group at UC Merced, said he began receiving emails and texts by 9 a.m. from peers and former students that were still on campus checking to see if he and other faculty members were safe.
“The threat of a mass shooter on campus on Monday [at Fresno State] and then a knifing on Wednesday at Merced, it’s kind of disheartening more than anything else, that these places can’t be safer than that,” Eissinger said. “There is always the potential for something screwy to happen in a community.”
Eissinger said the iconic campus pedestrian bridge where students pass on a daily basis and is used as a traditional symbol of the coming and going of students is now tainted with a bad memory. This location was where the suspect was shot and killed by police.
One of students who saw the police bring down the assailant said that he will never be able to see that bridge the same way.
Students held two vigils Wednesday night at two different locations as an attempt to bring the community together show their support for the victims and as well as for the campus and show their solidarity during this time of crisis and grieving, Ortiz said.
The school is now looking into the incident as an opportunity to learn and grow.
“This is something we have trained for, an incident such as this, just to be prepared on how we would react and how we would handle a situation such as this, of course we never expected this to happen, unfortunately it did,” Ortiz said. “In the future we will definitely be looking what we know, what we can improve.”