Anger over being kicked out of a University of California at Merced study group drove an 18-year-old computer science student to make a precise plan to kill “a lot of people,” according to a two-page, hand-written manifesto found during his autopsy, authorities said Thursday.
Faisal Mohammad, a slender freshman in glasses, entered his Wednesday morning class with a 10-inch knife, a backpack filled with zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape and, in his pocket, a point-by-point script for vengeance, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told reporters: “He had a pretty elaborate idea of what he wanted to do.”
“We had an upset teenager that was upset over being kicked out of a study group” for being disruptive, the sheriff said. “He was a teenager, he got mad and took it out this way.
“We don’t know what’s going to trigger and we don’t have a crystal ball ... We don’t know. The human person is a very unpredictable being.”
Mohammad rolled out his plan, attacking and wounding one student as the professor and others in the room screamed. Then, something happened that interrupted his script, Warnke said. A nearby construction worker heard the screams and burst in. The 31-year-old Merced man tangled with the teen, who slashed him with the knife and then fled the room. Mohammad would stab and wound two other people before he was chased down by campus police and shot to death.
“The fortunate part is,” Warnke said, “his plans went haywire because people fought back ... a very brave construction worker who stopped this from going on. It took his script away from him.”
The discovery of the script, with some 24 precise steps and, like a computer software code, instructions to repeat, answered the question of what motivated the quiet teen from Santa Clara to launch the most brazen act of violence to occur on the young UC campus, set in a rural landscape before the Sierra Nevada mountains.
While armchair observers on social media were quick to point to Mohammad’s mere name as evidence of terrorism, Warnke said that was not the case.
Wearing his signature cowboy hat, the sheriff told a crowd of reporters Thursday “there is nothing to indicate this was anything other than a teenage boy who got upset with fellow classmates.”
Asked if the manifesto made any references to Allah, Warnke said there were, but dismissed any suggestion that Mohammad was motivated by religion.
“His belief was through the Muslim faith, but there’s nothing to indicate anything other than that,” Warnke said. “It’d be like a Christian referring to the Lord Jesus.”
“You’ve got to remember there are a lot of Muslim-faith (people) that are very kind, gentle, loving people and to have one person do this, you can’t group that whole section of folks into that. It’s just not right,” Warnke said. The note recovered from his body named three students Mohammad planned to kill, names Warnke declined to release. The plan said Mohammed intended to force a student to help him handcuff others in the class. He intended to move to other locations on campus, to fake a call for help in order to ambush a police officer, then take the officer’s gun and go on to kill people at a dormitory.
But, Warnke said, Mohammad’s plans were clearly those of a teenager. His backpack contained bags of petroleum jelly that, like a scene from a slapstick movie, he planned to squirt onto floors as a slippery obstacle.
“I don’t think he had any actual capability of carrying this out,” Warnke said. “I think he had illusions of grandeur.”
Few seem to have known the student, who spend most of his time alone, according to students. The Muslim Student Association on campus issued a statement on its Facebook page Thursday saying its members were shaken by the violence. “Like all Americans, we condemn this heinous attack.”
Based on the evidence so far, “there is no reason to believe that this was in any way related to terrorism,” the group said. “Once this immediate crisis has passed, our university community needs to begin a serious discussion about campus violence, here and nationwide.”
As of Thursday, two of the victims remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. The construction worker who interrupted Mohammad, Byron Price, was treated for his wounds Wednesday and released.
On Thursday, he told the Sun-Star that Mohammad had smiled as he slashed at people, but “looked scared.”
“He also looked like he was having fun,” Price said. “His eyes, I could see fear in his eyes. He was smiling.”