Four stabbed at UC Merced; suspect killed; sheriff holds news conference
The UC Merced student who stabbed four people during a campus rampage “intended to kill a lot of people,” according to authorities who found a detailed manifesto on his body.
Merced County Sheriff Verne Warnke told the Sun-Star on Thursday that the document found on the body of 18-year-old Faisal Mohammad included “a detailed list of his targets and his intentions.”
The computer science and engineering freshman planned to stab a police officer, take that officer’s firearm and use it to shoot students in a dormitory, Warnke said.
Mohammad’s motive appears to have been anger he felt over being “kicked out of a study group,” Warnke said. “He was mad at a student.”
UC officials and investigators have discounted any possible political or religious motivations behind the attack, which wounded two students and two others early Wednesday.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorthy Leland said there was no evidence to believe the attack was “in any way related to terrorism.”
Preliminary evidence, she said, suggests Mohammad “appears to have been motivated by personal animosities, not a political agenda.” She said, “it would be irresponsible” to draw any link to terrorism “based solely on the ethnicity of the suspect.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Warnke echoed Leland’s statements, saying evidence gathered suggests the attack was an “act of an individual for a vendetta … nothing to indicate there was any political or religious motivation.”
Investigators seized numerous items from the backpack Mohammad carried into the classroom, including several zip-tie handcuffs, petroleum jelly, a night-vision scope, a safety hammer, and rolls of duct tape, among other things.
Warnke said it remains unclear precisely what Mohammad had planned. Local and federal authorities, including the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have yet to find anything to explain his motivation.
“We have nothing to indicate this person was on anybody’s radar,” Warnke said, “absolutely nothing they could find to indicate he was doing anything other than being a college student at UC Merced.”
Mohammad was shot and killed by UC police Wednesday after he stabbed and wounded four people in the rampage that began in a second-floor classroom.
A 31-year-old construction worker who heard screams coming from the classroom said Mohammad smiled as he slashed at people. The thinly built freshman “looked scared,” Byron Price told the Sun-Star on Thursday.
"He also looked like he was having fun,” Price said. “His eyes, I could see fear in his eyes. He was smiling.”
Price was slashed in the attack, which also wounded two students and a female student advisor. All were expected to recover from their injuries.
As of Thursday morning, one student remained hospitalized but was expected to recover and the other student was released after being treated, according to a statement from university spokeswoman Lorena Anderson. The student advisor, a member of the UC Merced staff, suffered a collapsed lung and was recovering Thursday after successful surgery, she said. Other than Price, the names of the victims have not been released.
Mohammad was a June 2015 graduate of Adrian Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, according to Jennifer Dericco, public information officer for the school district.
Investigators believe Mohammad was armed with a large hunting knife when he entered a second-floor classroom as class was starting Wednesday and struggled with a male student, who was stabbed.
Price had been working on a remodeling project in the Classroom and Office Building when he heard a commotion in a nearby classroom and opened the door to intervene. There, he saw Mohammad, whom he described as about 5-foot-11 and “pretty scrawny.”
“He looked like a totally normal UC Merced student,” Price said. “I looked him square in his eyes when he was attacking me.”
Price was slashed in the abdomen. He was treated at Mercy Medical Center and released Wednesday.
Mohammad was shot and killed by UC Merced police just after 8 a.m. on Wednesday as he ran from the two-story classroom building. The identities of those officers have not been released. One of the officers was placed on an automatic three-day leave from the department, a standard protocol in officer-involved shootings.
Warnke described Price’s actions as heroic.
“Without him, the first victim could have been a lot worse off, or even dead,” he said.
Classes at the campus northeast of Merced were canceled Thursday. Chancellor Dorothy Leland said activities on the campus would resume Friday.
This story will be updated as soon as more information becomes available.