Witness: UC Merced officer ‘was in the right’ when he fatally shot stabbing suspect

A Fresno woman who witnessed the Nov. 4 encounter between a UC Merced officer and a man accused of stabbing four people on the campus said the officer “was in the right” when he shot and killed the attacker.

Meghan Christopherson, a 19-year-old sophomore studying human biology, said both the suspect and the officer ran past her just before 8 a.m. The suspect – later identified as 18-year-old UC Merced student Faisal Mohammad – stopped and turned toward the officer about 30 feet from the Scholars Lane bridge she crosses every day to get from her dormitory to class.

She said she was the closest person to the confrontation. She described the 90-second standoff that unfolded in front of her.

“The officer kept continuously telling him to put it on the ground, get on the ground and put your hands above your head,” Christopherson said. “And then the suspect kept advancing toward the officer – he would take one step forward, and the officer would take one step back.”

The officer, she continued, “kept repeatedly telling him to put it down and get on the ground. And then he started saying, ‘Do you want to get shot? Do you want to get shot?’ 

This continued for several seconds before the suspect eventually “made a lunge” at the officer, she said. This frightened Christopherson, who knew the suspect had a weapon but wasn’t sure what kind, and feared being caught in the crossfire of a gunfight. She turned to run away from the campus side of the bridge. That’s when she heard two shots.

Christopherson turned back toward the confrontation and saw the officer standing above Mohammad, who was now lying on the ground. She can’t recall ever seeing the young man on campus before the moment he ran by her.

“I was in such shock – I didn’t really know what to do,” she said. “My initial thing was (that) I have to go to work still. I got to work and ended up bawling to my boss.”

Christopherson works as a lab assistant in the natural science department. The Clovis East High graduate also lives in the Half Dome dormitories on campus.

Her father, Robb, was on his way to work when he picked up the phone right around 8 a.m. – before news of the stabbings and subsequent shooting had left campus.

“She was hysterical,” he said. “She retold it quickly, and once I knew she was safely locked down in the science building, I told her to call campus police and give a statement. And I told her that her mom and I were on our way.”

After Christopherson gave her statement, her supervisor read an alert sent to faculty and students: Someone had been stabbed at the campus.

In fact, four people had been stabbed.

One victim, 31-year-old worker Byron Price, attempted to stop Mohammad after he stabbed a student, which authorities believe may have saved the student. Mohammad went on to stab another student and a university employee before he was killed.

All four victims are expected to survive.

Merced County Sheriff Verne Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star on Thursday that authorities recovered a detailed manifesto apparently written by Mohammad.

The two-page, handwritten document explained that Mohammad planned to get revenge against several students for kicking him out of a study group. He had planned to stab a police officer in order to take that officer’s gun and shoot students in a dormitory.

Christopherson said the UC Merced officer who pulled the trigger likely saved many more students, as Mohammad appeared to be heading toward the packed campus cafeteria. She believes the timing of the attacks was fortunate – she was one of only a few students wandering the grounds at the time of the attacks. Many were either already in class or asleep.

It took awhile for her parents to reach her.

“There were about eight checks with authorities to get on campus,” said her mother, Kari Christopherson. “They did a really good job of keeping that place locked down.”

After the checks, Robb and Kari Christopherson spent another two hours or so in a parent staging area. They were eventually allowed to meet Meghan in her dorm room around 11 a.m. Campus police instructed them to wait there until sheriff’s investigators contacted them, Robb said.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Office is handling the investigation into whether the shooting was justified.

At 11 p.m., Robb Christopherson said, he was done waiting. He called the Sheriff’s Office to explain that the family was going home. To his surprise, the detectives seemed unaware that a woman had witnessed the shooting and was waiting to speak to them. She gave them a statement and returned home to Fresno around 1 a.m. Thursday.

A spokesman for UC Merced said the university would be unable to comment on the specific details of the case until both the sheriff’s and the university’s internal investigations were completed.

The family didn’t get much sleep Thursday morning, and the incident left Meghan numb.

“She realized how close he was to her,” Robb Christopherson said. “He could have stabbed her.”

Christopherson said his daughter is very resilient and will eventually get over the traumatic experience. At age 8, she was diagnosed with necrotic pancreatitis, which ruined her immune system and caused near-constant hospitalization. She persevered and excelled academically.

It was Meghan Christopherson’s dream to attend a UC, and the experience has not soured the family on the Merced campus. She will return to school on Tuesday.

“This was an isolated incident,” she said. “It really could have happened anywhere. I’ve got to put it behind me.

“There’s nothing else to be done.”

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