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Suspected UC Merced attacker didn’t talk much, suitemate says

Video: Father hails son for confronting UC Merced attacker

John Price's son, Byron, got stabbed helping thwart the classroom attack but kicked knife-wielding suspect in head.
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John Price's son, Byron, got stabbed helping thwart the classroom attack but kicked knife-wielding suspect in head.

The suitemate of suspected UC Merced attacker Faisal Mohammed said the freshman engineering major kept to himself and refused to interact.

“Every time I would try and say something, he would just ignore it,” Andrew Valasquez, Mohammed’s suitemate, told KFSN in Fresno.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Office identified Mohammed early Thursday.

“We are handling the investigation,” said Sheriff Vern Warnke. We’ve got some strong developments.”

Byron Price, 31, a construction worker wounded in the attack, told the Merced Sun-Star on Thursday that Mohammed smiled as he slashed at people. Price said Mohammed “looked scared,” but “he also looked like he was having fun.”

Mohammed was a graduate of Wilcox High School, according to the Santa Clara Unified School District. A district official said counselors were at the high school.

Violence rocked the smallest and most pastoral campus in the University of California system Wednesday when Mohammed allegedly stabbed four people before he was shot and killed by police on a main campus walkway.

Mohammad was shot and killed by UC Merced police just after 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning as he ran from the two-story classroom building where investigators said his violent spree began.

Warnke said investigators, including the FBI, were still trying to determine the motive for Mohammad’s attack, which wounded two students, a female student adviser and Price, who was on campus for a remodeling project. The four suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The 8 a.m. incident that began in the university’s Classroom and Office Building left two students, a staff adviser and a contract construction worker with stab wounds. It also traumatized scores of witnesses, including many who came to render aid as the violence spilled from an upstairs classroom out onto the campus.

Authorities say Mohammad brought a hunting knife into the classroom and apparently stabbed another student during an altercation. The suspect then stabbed a construction worker who went into the classroom to intervene, and then bolted down a flight of stairs – with the knife still in hand, according to authorities.

Outside, the student then stabbed another student and a university staff member.

He said he saw everything, including the police officer kill the guy. He is pretty torn up.

Keith Dick, father of a UC Merced student

Warnke said the staff member, who works as a student adviser, was seated on a bench when she was randomly attacked.

“She was minding her own business when he came up behind her and stabbed her in the front and stabbed her in the back,” Warnke said.

UC Merced Police Chief Albert Vasquez said two officers pursued the suspect as he was wielding the knife and “injuring or attempting to injure others on his way out.” Two officers chased after him as he ran onto Scholar’s Lane, the main pedestrian boulevard for the campus.

They caught up with him on a bridge crossing over a campus canal, about 40 yards from where the stabbing began. The officers encountered the suspect and – from about four feet away – shot him dead, Vasquez said.

“We are fortunate that it was not worse” in injuries or loss of life, Vasquez said. “And we thank our UC Merced police officers for their quick and heroic actions in ending this situation.”

As word of the tragedy spread, Keith Dick, a father from Gilroy, rushed to campus to meet his son, Justin. The 20-year-old computer science major witnessed the eruption of violence in his social studies class in the Classroom and Office Building, a structure known by students at the COB.

“He said there was some scuffle and everybody started getting stabbed,” said Keith Dick, who afterward followed his shaken son’s car on the drive home. “He said he saw everything, including the police officer kill the guy. He is pretty torn up.”

After the incident, Price was rushed to Mercy Medical Center in Merced by co-workers at Artisan Construction. The crew was working on a remodeling project in a nearby classroom, and Price had run over when he heard the disturbance.

“They heard a scuffle in the classroom right across from where they were working, and it sounded like a fight,” John Price, Byron Price’s father, told the Merced Sun-Star. “So (my son) opened the door, and the guy lunged at him. It got the (attacker) outside the room, away from others.”

University spokeswoman Lorena Anderson said two victims, including Price, were airlifted to hospitals in Modesto while others were treated at the campus.

My parents just want me to go home.

Candelaria Amezcuita, 18, of Sacramento

In a solemn Wednesday afternoon news conference, UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said the violence traumatized the 6,700-student campus, which she described as “large in our sense of community.”

Leland said the stabbing victims’ injuries do not appear to be life-threatening. “I am concerned for their full recovery, but I’m equally concerned for the many witnesses in the campus community who were deeply traumatized by this event,” she said.

She said counselors were working with students and staff members. University classes are canceled through Thursday, though students were allowed to stay in their dorms Wednesday night and use dining services.

The incident forced the closure of the UC Merced campus as police secured the crime scene. Officers also went in search of potential additional victims and even sent in a bomb squad as a precaution to ensure that there were no explosives in Mohammad’s backpack. No such device or other victims were found.

Frightened students, barred from areas near the crime scene, huddled in their dorms or packed up their books, papers and bedding and left the campus.

“My parents just want me to go home,” said Candelaria Amezcuita, 18, of Sacramento, who was leaving campus Wednesday afternoon with friend and fellow Sacramento resident Nohely Alcala, also 18.

The two freshmen had been scheduled for an afternoon class in the building where the stabbings occurred.

From their dorms, they knew something was wrong.

“We just heard sirens – and then we got an email that someone got stabbed,” said Amezcuita, describing a campus warning that advised students to stay in place. “I didn’t think it was true. And then we saw police. And then there was another email saying someone got shot.”

Campus officials pushed out alerts every 15 minutes to students, using Twitter, text messages and email. Amezcuita, a political science major, described the university response to the incident as “very professional.” But the two girls were still anxious as they were leaving campus.

“It happened in our writing classroom where we were supposed to be later today,” said Alcala, a history major. She clutched her pillow as she carried her laptop and personal belongings in a backpack and tote. “That freaks us out.”

While Leland said students were “free to leave,” she said many decided to stay in their dorms with their friends. “There is something powerful about a community that is hanging together through a difficult situation.”

She said the parents of students on campus can be assured that “their children are safe here.”

Alex Raj, a sophomore from Sacramento who is studying applied mathematics, said he chose the Merced campus because he thought its rural, tranquil location would allow him to concentrate on his studies. The campus is surrounded by grazing lands and a county park, where geese wander around a small lake.

“It’s a really great campus, where students can learn away from distractions,” said Raj, 18.

He then reflected somberly on the events.

“I heard there was an argument and somebody went crazy about it. It’s sad,” Raj said.

He said he was going to spend Wednesday night at the off-campus apartment of a fellow student “just to defuse the tension.”

“I’m just going to hang out with a friend, chill out and pray for other people.”

Wednesday’s stabbings marked another in a long string of recent violent incidents on college campuses across the country. Many of these have been shootings rather than stabbings, and have produced far more lethal results.

Some apparently stemmed from fights, such as the fatal shooting of a man on the Sacramento City College campus Sept. 3. Others have been seemingly random acts, such as the 2014 shooting and stabbing spree by Elliot Rodger near the UC Santa Barbara campus that left six students dead.

Opened for undergraduates in 2005, UC Merced is the newest campus in the UC system. Many of its students come from the San Joaquin Valley. According to the campus website, 410 undergraduates are from the Sacramento region.

Peter Hecht: 916-326-5539, @phecht_sacbee

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