The woman’s screams from a UC Merced classroom caught Byron Price’s ear, a clear signal something was wrong.
The private contractor had been working on a project nearby for several days and he’d often seen the woman who taught the early morning class. The 31-year-old Merced man figured students were fighting and he decided to help.
“My intention was to break up the fight and help the teacher when nobody else could,” Price recalled Thursday. “Fights and scuffles happen, especially when you’re a 20-year-old kid. That’s the sound I heard.”
But when he thrust open the door Wednesday, he disrupted the plans of an 18-year-old student who had already used a 10-inch hunting knife to attack a classmate.
Price said he caught a glimpse of the professor, who looked back at him and screamed, “No! Run!”
“I’ll never forget the look on her face,” he said.
Price interrupted an attack that marked the most tragic morning in UC Merced’s 10-year history, a rampage that wounded Price and three other people before ending with campus police fatally shooting Faisal Mohammad, a freshman computer science and engineering major from Santa Clara.
Price described Mohammad as skinny, about 5-foot-11 and wearing baggy clothes. “He looked like a totally normal UC Merced student.”
He was standing by the door, apparently preventing the professor and about two dozen students from leaving.
“He had everybody in the room, and nobody could get out,” Price said. “I looked him square in his eyes when he was attacking me. I’ll never forget it. He looked scared.
“He also looked like he was having fun. I could see fear in his eyes, but he was smiling.”
Mohammad lunged at Price, the large knife held over his head.
“It was like a ‘Scream’ movie,” Price said.
The construction worker defended himself using his legs, kicking Mohammad off of him. Mohammad managed to stab Price in his lower stomach, hitting his hip bone but missing any major arteries.
“He hit solid bone,” Price said. “That was a pretty weird feeling, but also a good feeling because I knew he hadn’t got an organ.”
After fighting off the attacker, Price watched as Mohammad fled onto a balcony before sinking his knife into another innocent victim, a woman on staff at UC Merced.
“That was a pretty disturbing thing to watch,” Price said. “He buried that knife in her.”
Hoping to help the woman, Price rushed to his work truck to find some rags to stop the bleeding. On his way, he ran into another male student who had been stabbed. The student was holding his ear.
“I didn’t get a story from him, but it seemed like (Mohammad) tried to slash his throat,” Price said.
Price had lost sight of Mohammad. Minutes later, however, he heard a gunshot and knew the rampage was over. Campus police had caught up with the student.
“It was kind of nice that we only heard one shot,” Price said. “I breathed a sigh of relief. That was my biggest fear – that I let this guy get away and get more people. It was relieving to know the officer had done his job.”
Price’s co-workers drove him to Mercy Medical Center, where he was treated and released. As of Thursday, two of the other three victims remained hospitalized. Their names have not been released.
If Price had not stopped his work to check on the professor’s screams, the attack may have ended very differently, authorities said.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said Thursday that investigators on the scene recovered Mohammad’s backpack, which held zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape and other items that suggested he “intended to go farther than he did.”
He described Price as “the true hero in all of this chaos.”
“Without him, the first victim could have been a lot worse off, or even dead,” Warnke said.
But Price said he didn’t intend to be a hero, and he hoped more people would be willing to do what he did.
Price, who has worked projects at UC Merced since 2009, said he considers the university his “home away from home.”
“It’s like my backyard,” he said. “I really do enjoy that campus and working there.”
Despite his injury, he said, “I feel like what I did was right. ... I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“We need more people in the world that are willing to risk themselves.”
Price, who is engaged, plans to use the experience as a lesson for his and his fiancée’s children.
“It’s important to pay attention to other people and their feelings and actions,” he said. “If you see somebody disturbed and depressed or unhappy, it doesn’t hurt anybody to ask them if they want to talk or if they need a friend.
“It’s good to reach out to people if they aren’t feeling well. Be sensitive of other people’s feelings and be ready to protect yourself.”
Brianna Vaccari: 209-385-2477