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UC Merced assailant was angry over study group snub, note says

A man who stabbed four people at UC Merced before being shot and killed by police had planned an elaborate attack on his classmates because he was angry about getting kicked out of a study group, authorities said Thursday night.

Investigators found a “two-page, handwritten manifesto” in a pocket of the assailant, 18-year-old Faisal Mohammad, during an autopsy, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said at a news conference. The document detailed an elaborate “script” for the attack Wednesday morning, Warnke said.

Mohammad, a freshman, had planned to go into the classroom on the second floor of the Classroom and Office Building and tie his classmates’ hands with zip-tie handcuffs and force another student to help him do so, Warnke said. Mohammad listed some students by name.

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He then planned to put petroleum jelly into clear bags, cut holes in the bags and squirt the substance onto the floor, making “kind of a slip-and-slide” that would make it difficult for anyone who entered the room, Warnke said.

In the note, Mohammad said he anticipated a confrontation with police officers and planned to steal an officer’s gun before leaving the classroom to “do other tragedies on campus,” the sheriff said.

Authorities said they found a backpack with Mohammad that contained the zip ties, two clear bags containing petroleum jelly, a night-vision scope, a safety hammer (which the sheriff described as a “device used to break windows”), two rolls of duct tape and separate small pieces of duct tape.

The attacks began just before 8 a.m. in the classroom, which had about 15 students and which school officials described as a freshman general education course.

The attacker first slashed a male student’s throat with a blade that authorities said was as long as 10 inches.

His plan appears to have been foiled by the sudden entrance of Byron Price, a construction worker who was finishing a job in the building.

Price said in an interview that he entered the classroom after hearing what sounded like a fight: slamming desks, yelling and a struggle. He went to the class to see whether he needed to break up a fight.

“Hey, guys, you OK?” he asked the professor.

“No, run!” she screamed.

“I’ll never forget the look in her eyes,” Price said.

Before he could figure out what was going on, he said, Mohammad was on him, “holding the knife over his head,” Price said. “He didn’t know what he was doing. If he wanted to, he could’ve killed me.”

Price fell onto his back and began kicking at Mohammad while covering his head and chest with his arms to defend himself. He’d never seen his attacker before.

“I looked the guy square in the eyes. He looked like he was having fun. I also saw fear,” Price said.

Mohammad stabbed Price in the waist and fled, running down a flight of stairs. Outside, he knifed another male student before attacking a university staff member, stabbing her multiple times.

Two campus police officers gave chase, and, about 15 minutes after the attacks began, Mohammad was shot. Price said he heard a single gunshot.

The sheriff’s department is investigating the shooting by the campus police officer, Warnke said.

On Thursday night, Warnke said Price’s entry seemed to have caught Mohammad off guard and “befuddled” him.

“It took his script away from him,” Warnke said. “His plan went haywire because people fought back, and that was his bad luck. The fortunate part is we’ve got some very brave students and a very brave construction worker."

Warnke said the Mohammad’s note did not mention dying, even though he anticipated a confrontation with police.

Warnke said the attack was not believed to be an act of terrorism.

“There is still nothing to indicate anything, and I mean anything, that this is anything other than a teenage boy who got upset with fellow classmates and took it to the extreme,” he said.

The stabbing victims’ injuries do not appear to be life-threatening, officials said. Both of the students injured were men, and as of Thursday morning, one student remained hospitalized, UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. The other was treated and released. The staff member suffered a collapsed lung and was recovering after a successful surgery, Leland said.

Warnke said 20 FBI agents assisted in the investigation. Authorities did a thorough background check on Mohammad and his family, checked his electronic devices and searched his campus dormitory. They found was a handwritten “laundry list” of items found in the backpack, he said.  

“There was zero radar on this fellow,” and nothing to indicate that “he was doing anything other than being a student at UC Merced,” Warnke said.

School and law enforcement authorities have not released the victims’ names.

Mohammad graduated from Wilcox High School in the Santa Clara Unified School district in June, district spokeswoman Jennifer Dericco said.

The district had counselors available in the Wilcox High School office Thursday “for any students and staff that need help processing this information.”

At UC Merced, Mohammad was studying computer science and engineering. One of Mohammad’s roommates, Andrew Velasquez, told KFSN that the assailant was “antisocial” and didn’t talk much.

“I never saw him with anybody. Walking to class, I never saw him walk with anybody,” Velasquez said. “Every time I would try and say something, he would just ignore it.”

Classes at the university were expected to resume Friday.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @DianaMarcum@JosephSerna and @haileybranson.


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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


6:32 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the sheriff's evening news conference.

6:02 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the assailant's manifesto and motive.

2:27 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from authorities.

11:37 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from victim Byron Price.

This article was first published at 9:23 a.m.