Detectives determined that a
"The official said criminologists traced the blood from Xinran Ji's 30th Street apartment to the intersection of 29th Street and Orchard Avenue, where the assault occurred.
Ji, 24, had just walked a friend home when he was hit by some kind of blunt object by at least three suspects around 12:45 a.m.
He then walked back to his apartment, located a few blocks from campus, where he succumbed to his injury and was found dead a few hours later, police said.
Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said that the attack may have been a crime of opportunity. It's unclear whether Ji was robbed.
An acquaintance discovered Ji's body about 7 a.m. and called 911. A cause of death has not been determined, but university officials said he appeared to have suffered a head injury.
No arrests have been made, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Friday morning.
Smith said detectives with the department's Criminal Gang Homicide division were working "around the clock," and "pulling out all the stops to get this thing wrapped up." He said the LAPD was in close contact with university officials regarding the investigation.
"It's a very high priority for us to make sure that we take these guys into custody," he said.
Clayton Dube, the director of the USC U.S.-China Institute, said Ji was "focused on making a better future for all of us."
"He wasn't simply somebody who wanted to take, he wanted to create. He was an engineer who wanted to solve problems, to make things better, to improve people's lives through his work," Dube said.
Dube, who didn't know Ji personally but spoke to his mother on the phone Thursday, said Ji graduated from a prestigious Chinese university. During his time at Zhejiang, he visited California as part of a summer program.
While there, he was inspired by the advanced machinery he saw.
"I think he wanted to be part of this revolution in the design and creation of machines that could make things faster, make them better, do all those sorts of things," Dube said.
The university is making arrangements for Ji's parents to travel to Los Angeles.
The incident brings up bad memories of a string of shootings that happened a few years ago, after which the university poured considerable resources into improving campus safety.
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.
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.
Dube said Ji's death has had a "profound impact" on students, but he does not believe the victims were targeted in this or the previous incidents.
"They were not targeted because they were students. They were not targeted because they were Chinese," he said. "They were targeted because they happened to have something or maybe had something that these criminals wanted and were willing to create great bodily harm to take."