A week ago, authorities were called to the campus dorm room of 19-year-old Alexander G. Song 2nd, who, according to the University of Maryland, College Park police chief, was shouting and acting out.
The sophomore who grew up in Howard County told officers he was "very stressed out," the chief said, but "there was nothing that led us to believe he was a threat to himself or to others." But by Sunday, police had Song in custody, saying he posted messages on the Internet threatening "a shooting rampage on campus."
During a news conference Monday, University Police Chief David B. Mitchell described Song as "very emotionally distraught" when he was arrested Sunday morning. "He was shaking and crying."
How this student went from the heights of academia — graduating from high school near the top of his class and enrolling in an elite college research program — to being placed in a psychiatric ward charged with threatening to shoot up the campus remains a mystery.
Reaction from fellow students has been "I guess pity, that someone was going through something like that," said College Park sophomore Tim Herman of New Jersey.
Mitchell said Song was "in good academic standing," but school officials would not comment further on how the student was doing on campus or what might have caused him stress. The teen's parents, who live in Fulton in southern Howard County, did not respond to interview requests.
Song graduated in the top 10 percent of his 2010 class at Reservoir High School, where he was a member of three honors societies. At College Park, he was accepted into an honors program, where students in his advanced science study group were trying to purify methane gas to turn it into an alternative energy source.
According to campus police, Song posted comments Saturday on websites that said "I will be on a shooting rampage tomorrow on campus," and "hopefully I kill enough people to make it to national news." Another post, police said, warned: "stay away from the Mall tomorrow at 1:30."
There was no indication that Song possessed weapons or even had access to them, Mitchell said, and he was unarmed when his officers arrested him Sunday morning on campus. School officials did not put out a campus alert until 1 a.m. Monday, hours after rumors started to flourish and the story first appeared in the media.
In a statement, university President Wallace D. Loh said that detectives were "actively tracking the student's whereabouts throughout [Sunday] morning, and a public alert might have disrupted those efforts before they were able to take him into custody."
Loh added that police "are confident that any threat to our community was mitigated" after Song was arrested and his campus privileges suspended.
Police have charged Song in a warrant with disturbing the orderly conduct of the activities, administration or classes at the campus, a misdemeanor that could result in a $2,500 fine or six months in jail. Police said the warrant will be served after Song completes counseling at a psychiatric hospital, where he was taken for observation. Mitchell said Song could face additional charges.
Herman, the sophomore, said the incident has unnerved some students but was unlike scares elsewhere, where armed people were roaming a campus. "It sounds like maybe he just took things a little bit too far," Herman said, though he added that if Song were allowed back on campus, "obviously, I wouldn't want to be too near him."
LaVonna Livingston, a sophomore from Baltimore, said Song lived in her building, Oakland Hall, a dorm of suites that holds as many as 700 students. "I consider this a really safe campus," Livingston said. "Just to have the possibility of something like this happening here, it's definitely still on my mind."
Monday appeared a normal day on campus, with students playing Frisbee and lying on the lawns near the center quad, taking advantage of the warm weather. Meanwhile, Mitchell gave a detailed timeline of the investigation, which started at 9:23 p.m. Saturday with a call to the emergency dispatch center from an alumnus who had worked as a police aide while a student.
Mitchell said the former student happened to be on a website, reddit.com, a news aggregator, when he saw an anonymous posting from a student claiming to want to carry out a shooting rampage. Police traced the message as being routed through an Internet company in California.
About 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Mitchell said, police got a second call, this one anonymous, from a person in Montana who said he received a direct instant message from a person on a website called omegle.com, which allows strangers to chat with each other.
That person said someone was talking about carrying out a campus shooting. Mitchell said the person asked the sender if he was kidding, and the response "led the person to believe it was a serious threat." At 4 a.m., Mitchell said, a third person called police, also after seeing a posting about a campus shooting on the omegle site.
By 4:45 a.m., Mitchell said, police had isolated the computer from which the messages were sent to the College Park campus, and by 6 a.m. they had identified Song. Officers set up surveillance and went inside his dorm room at 7:30 a.m., but he wasn't there. Mitchell said police arrested Song as he returned to the dorm in a vehicle at 10:06 a.m.
Police said they searched Song's car and dorm room, along with his parents' house in Fulton, but would not describe what, if anything, they seized. Mitchell said no weapons were found at any of the three locations.