An 18-year-old named Faisal Mohammad “had a smile on his face” as he stabbed four people at a University of California campus in Merced, according to witnesses. He was shot and killed by campus police officers who responded to the school after hearing about the attack. The incident occurred on the morning of November 4 in the town of Merced, just over 100 miles east of San Jose. A statement from the school said that the attack happened outdoors on the campus in front of the Classroom and Office Building. Later it emerged that the stabbing began inside of a classroom and spilled out into the front of the building.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was Angry at Classmates Who Kicked Him Out of a Study Group
The alert about the stabbing first came from the school’s Twitter account at around 8 a.m. on November 4. Mohammad was a student at the school with his age being described, incorrectly, as “early 20s,” reports The Merced Sun Star. The paper was quoting Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke, who has his deputies assisting the Merced Campus police in the investigation. Warnke later said that investigators found “duct tape, zip ties & hammer” in Mohammad’s book bag, the sheriff added “He intended to do more harm.” Later, ABC Fresno reported that cops found a manifesto on Mohammad’s person which detailed individuals that he wished to attack. The station says that one person in particular had kicked the suspect out of a study group.
CBS Fresno’s Janelle Bludau reports that the officer who shot Mohammad “was a former sheriff’s deputy.” The suspect was a computer science and engineering major.
An official statement from the school confirmed that Mohammad had been shot and killed by responding officers. Erroneous reports had earlier stated that Mohammad had been arrested by officers. LA Times reporter Hailey Brandons-Potts reports that Mohammad was shot dead on a bridge, about 40 yards from the building where the stabbing began, that most students use to walk to classes.
2. One of the Victims, Byron Price, Is Being Hailed as a Hero by the Police
In total, four people were stabbed by Mohammad. The Merced Sun Star newspaper reports that the two critical victims had to be flown to a hospital. All of the victims were conscious by the time first responders got to the scene and are expected to survive.
A tweet from the school said that not all of the victims are students. The Los Angeles Times’ Joe Serna reported that two victims are students and one is a school staff member. The other is a 31-year-old construction worker named Byron Price.
He told Your Central Valley that after being stabbed a coworker drove him to a nearby hospital. In an interview with the station, Price added that he was working outside the building where the stabbing took place. After hearing screaming, Price went to see what had happened. “Upon opening the door to the classroom, the suspect attacked him with a knife,” during which point he was stabbed although he did manage to kick Mohammad. He later told Your Central Valley “I just kind of kicked at him. It was a really big knife and he was swinging it down so I figured if I was on the ground and my feet were at him, he could get my legs and not my body. And it turned out, it worked.”
According to his Facebook page, Price just got engaged on October 14, around 2 weeks before the attack. Speaking to CBS Fresno, Price said that Mohammad “had a smile on his face, he was having fun – which is more what bothers me.” He also told the station that the whole incident made him think “differently about having a concealed weapon.” Merced Couty Sheriff Vern Warnke described Price as a hero saying “Without him, the first victim could have been a lot worse off, or even dead.”
One student, who was not a victim, described the weapon as being a “10-12 inch blade.” It was later confirmed that the knife was 8-10 inches in length. The Los Angeles Times described it as a “hunting knife.”
3. Mohammad’s Roommate Says He Rarely Spoke & Kept to Himself
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the dorm where Mohammad lived, Tuolumne, was evacuated and searched by the local bomb squad, reports the school newspaper, The Prodigy. One student, who knew Mohammad’s room mate, said that the suspect was “rarely ever in the room.” Speaking to ABC Fresno, that room mate, identified as Andrew Velasquez, said that Mohammad “didn’t talk much and kept to himself” he added “Every time I would try and say something he would just ignore it.”
The newspaper says that the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have joined the investigation.
4. An ISIS-Linked Twitter Account Praised the Attack
Speaking to Fox News, Veryan Khan of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a group that monitors terrorist groups on social media, said the attack has been praised on ISIS-linked Twitter accounts. Khan said “Over the past three days, the Islamic State has released nineteen videos encouraging Palestinians stabbing attacks on Israel. The media campaign coincides with a wave of renewed violence between Israel and Palestine, after a wave of seemingly lone wolf attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis.”
NBC reporter Andrew Blankenstein tweeted that terrorism has been ruled out by investigators.
5. The Worst Stabbing at a U.S. College Occurred at Lone Star Community College in 2013
The school was opened in 2005 and has around 6,685 students enrolled, most of whom come from California. The Merced Sun Star reported that in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing, the school was closed with students advised to avoid the campus. Roads around the facility were blocked off. A statement from the school says that counseling is available 24 hours a day from the University of California Counseling & Psychological Services, call 209-228-4266 to speak to a counsellor over the phone.
The head of UC Merced’s safety and security is campus police chief and assistant vice-chancellor Albert Vasquez. He was appointed to the role in July 2015. The day-to-day operations of the department are handled by Lieutenant Chou Her. Previously, Vasquez worked at Santa Monica College. He said upon his appointment “It is a new position to the institution, and I am thrilled about the possibilities for the continued development in all of the safety areas on campus.” The Merced Sun Star reports that Vasquez was on the U.N. International Police Task Force and the Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.
A 2014 security report from the school indicates that there were only six crimes on campus, one forcible sex offense, one burglary and four cases of stalking.
In April 2013, 14 people were stabbed inside classrooms at Lone Star Community College in Cypress, Texas. The suspect in the crime, Dylan Quick, had to be subdued by other students. He later pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court documents showed that he told officers about his fantasies of killing people at the school. He had been born deaf but had a cochlear implant.