College freshman Faisal Mohammad made a list of what to put in his backpack Wednesday before entering his 8 a.m. general studies class armed with a hunting knife nearly 10 inches long. He carried with him a two-page document detailing his violent plans for the day.
Besides the knife, authorities said Thursday, the 18-year-old from Santa Clara reminded himself to bring zip-tie handcuffs, two baggies of petroleum jelly, a single-light night vision scope, two rolls of duct tape, a pair of scissors and a safety hammer used for breaking windows.
The only item that Mohammad apparently forgot to pack before he attacked and stabbed four people – and university police stopped him by shooting him dead –was the scissors.
Authorities on Thursday said there was no evidence that the engineering and computer science major had any ties to extremist or terrorist groups.
In a 5:30 p.m. press conference, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said the coroner conducting the autopsy on Mohammad found his awkwardly meticulous plan to handcuff students in the classroom, spread petroleum jelly on the floor to increase the chaos and ultimately attack and ambush a campus police officer to get his gun.
He had a pretty elaborate idea of what he wanted to do.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke
Mohammad, he said, was angry at getting “kicked out of a study group.”
“He had apparently gotten upset at one of the students, and apparently took his anger to an extreme level,” the sheriff said. “He had a pretty elaborate idea of what he wanted to do.”
Mohammad wounded four people in his attack, but none of their injuries were life-threatening. Classes were set to resume Friday.
As many as 20 FBI agents, as well as officials of the Department of Homeland Security, assisted the Merced County sheriff’s office and the UC Merced Police Department in the investigation. Authorities searched Mohammad’s dorm room, finding the backpack list, and combed his computer, phone and Internet and social media use.
Earlier in the day Thursday, Warnke and UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland aggressively sought to quash speculation over any terrorist ties, saying the investigation turned up no evidence that Mohammad had communicated with or even followed extremist groups online.
“We have no reason to believe this was in any way related to terrorism,” said Leland, who added pointedly: “It would be irresponsible to draw this conclusion based solely on the ethnicity of the suspect.”
Leland said the evidence appears to show only that Mohammad acted out of “what appears to be personal animosities.”
Warnke said FBI officials told him that they found “nothing in his personal history, belongings, electronic devices or any other item to suggest anything other than this is an act of an individual … There is nothing to indicate a political or religious motivation.”
“There is nothing to indicate this is anything other than a teenage boy who got upset with classmates,” he said at the evening press conference.
I never saw him walk with anybody.
Andrew Velasquez, suitemate of UC Merced attacker
UC Merced student Andrew Velasquez, who lived in a separate room in the same campus suite as Mohammad, described him as someone who brushed off attempts at conversation.
Velasquez told Fresno KFSN television that Mohammad, who graduated from Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, “didn’t talk much” and “I never saw him walk with anybody.”
After Wednesday morning’s violence, Velasquez was stunned and frightened by gun-pointing officers who stormed into the suite. “I was pretty scared and my heart was beating. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said.
Velasquez added: “Why him? Why would someone want to do that?”
Warnke said the suspect’s rampage could have been far worse – and potentially deadly – had a construction worker not raced to the classroom after hearing a disturbance he thought was a fight.
Byron Price, 31, was leading a three-member construction crew for his father’s construction company, Artisan Construction, which is remodeling a student waiting room across from the classroom where Mohammad turned out with 14 other students for his freshman-required general studies course.
Suddenly, the construction crew heard the sounds of chairs pushed around, and then thrown, and then “a girl screaming,” said Price’s father, John Price.
Byron Price rushed to the classroom. Instead of finding a fight, he was met by the suspect, who doubled back toward him with a raised knife.
The younger Price told the Merced Sun-Star that the suspect was a “scrawny” young man “who looked like a normal UC Merced student” –other than the huge knife in his hand. “I looked at him square in the eyes as he was attacking me,” Byron Price said.
John Price said his son told him the assailant “had a weird smile on his face” as he lunged forward with the knife. Byron Price jerked backward to protect his torso and abdomen, but the blade plunged into his waist above his left leg.
Wounded, he fell to the floor, but then braced himself on the floor and delivered a kick to the student’s head as the student leaned over him, knocking him back. Next, a fellow construction worker, Jacob Rodriguez, ran towards the suspect with a ladder, preparing to use it as weapon, John Price said.
He said the suspect straightened up and looked at Rodriguez, who “shook his finger at him” as if to say, “Don’t even think about coming at anybody.”
Authorities say Mohammad then fled down a flight of stairs. They say he went on to stab a university employee and a student outside the building before campus officers shot and killed him on the school’s Scholars Lane Bridge.
Warnke said Byron Price, who was released from the hospital Wednesday, may well have saved the life of a student in the classroom who had already been badly stabbed by interrupting the attack.
That student was hospitalized, and the staff member, a student adviser who was set upon as she was sitting on a bench, underwent surgery for multiple stab wounds, said Charles Nies, UC Merced’s vice president for student affairs. He said another student injured in the attack was treated on campus.
Leland says the campus is now working on its emotional recovery. She said the campus community plans a vigil Friday night at Scholars Lane Bridge, the signature feature of the university’s pedestrian thoroughfare.
Counselors were arriving on campus from other schools in the University of California system to offer emotional assistance. They include teams from UC Davis and UCLA. The University of California, Santa Barbara, where six people and a student gunman were killed in a 2014 mass shooting in the college community, sent six people to help UC Merced officials manage the aftermath of Wednesday’s events.
“I think it’s troublesome across the nation, the increasing violence that we’re seeing in our colleges and universities,” Leland said Thursday. “As a nation, we need to address it for our young people, who are so full of promise.”
Also reaching out to the UC Merced community Thursday was Fresno State University, which provided bus transportation and free admission for UC Merced students to attend Thursday night’s Fresno State football game.
“It’s kind of nice to get away and unwind after everything that has happened,” said student Keanu Herrera, 19. “It’s weird to adjust after this, and it’s going to be weird to go back to class tomorrow.”