A graduate student at USC walking home from a study group was attacked by at least three men early Thursday morning and died sometime later at his apartment, university officials and police said.
Investigators said engineering student Xinran Ji was assaulted with a blunt object at 12:45 a.m. Thursday near the corner of 29th Street and Orchard Avenue, a few blocks from campus.
Police said the 24-year-old from China managed to make his way back to his nearby apartment, where he apparently succumbed to his injury. A cause of death has not been determined, but university officials said he appeared to have suffered a head injury.
The attack has left some USC students on edge, coming two years after two other Chinese graduate students were gunned down near campus.
"It's shocking, but at the same time you're almost desensitized because you're like, 'Are you kidding me? It happened again?'" said Joe Benson, a senior undergraduate student.
Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said that the attack may have been a crime of opportunity. It's unclear whether Ji was robbed.
Ji's family in China has been notified of his death and the school is making arrangements for them to travel to Los Angeles, USC's Viterbi School of Engineering said. Ji joined the school in fall 2013.
USC officials described Ji's death as an "isolated incident." Still, the university's Department of Public Safety Chief John Thomas told The Times the department was reviewing its security procedures.
"We do all we can to ensure the safety of our campus and surrounding neighborhoods," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, tragic events of this kind can take place despite our best efforts, and our entire community is grieving the loss of our student."
USC has poured considerable resources into improving campus safety after a string of shootings put current and prospective students on edge.
In April 2012, two 23-year-old Chinese graduate students in the electrical engineering program, Ying Wu and Ming Qu, were shot to death around 1 a.m. while sitting in a parked BMW just west of campus.
The students' parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, saying the school misled them when it said it ranked among the safest in the nation.
Six months after Wu and Qu were slain, a gunman opened fire in a crowd outside a Halloween party near the center of USC. Four people were wounded, and the campus was placed on lockdown.
School officials put multiple new security measures in place. The university limited public access to the campus in the evening, the Department of Public Safety installed additional security cameras and license plate readers, and dorms introduced fingerprint scanners for entry.
About 1,500 feet of fencing also went up along the school's 2-mile perimeter, and security guards began checking identification cards of everyone coming inside after 9 p.m.
As a result, university officials reported a drop in property crimes in 2013 compared with the previous year.
However, most of the measures were aimed at securing the environment on campus. Thursday's assault once again exposed the limits of the university's efforts outside school grounds.
Multiple students said Ji's apartment complex, on the 1200 Block of 30th Street, was popular among international students because it had a reputation for being safe.
At the scene Thursday, yellow crime tape prevented passersby from walking onto the block as homicide detectives walked through one of the multistory tan buildings.
Ran Liu, a 26-year-old from China who graduated from USC in December, still lives near campus, just two blocks from where Ji was found dead.
"Some of my friends were freaking out," she said. "It does feel like these things are happening again and again. So much has happened in just three years."
Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times