MERCED, Calif. — A construction worker who ran into a California university classroom to break up what he thought was a fight is being hailed as a hero for preventing a student armed with a hunting knife from possibly killing his intended target. The attacker was later killed by police.
Byron Price, 31, was working on remodeling a waiting room at the University of California, Merced campus when he heard a commotion Wednesday and rushed to check on it.
The violence left Price and three others injured, but all are expected to survive. The assailant, described as a college student in his 20s, was shot and killed by campus police as he fled the scene.
“I really believe he’s a hero here. I think he prevented this first student from dying,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said. “The cops on campus, oh my gosh, praise them because they stopped a threat, but this first guy, he stopped a death.”
Two of the injured had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals, and the other two were treated on campus. Authorities didn’t release the name of the assailant or his victims.
The incident began when the assailant used a knife to stab two people in a second-floor room around the start of an 8 a.m. class, Warnke said.
“He didn’t go in knowing that there was a stabbing taking place. He went in thinking there was a fight,” Warnke said during an afternoon news conference.
Warnke said the suspect fled the room after attacking the construction worker and ran down two flights of stairs to the outside where he stabbed a school employee sitting on a bench. The suspect fled the building. He was shot and killed by pursuing campus police on a nearby foot bridge.
Authorities are investigating a motive. Warnke said the knife blade was eight to 10 inches long.
All the victims were conscious when paramedics reached them, Assistant Vice Chancellor Patti Waid said.
Lensy Maravilla, 19, a first-year student, said she was in a biology class on the second floor of the same building, when a female student ran in.
Maravilla said the student “was crying hysterically and came in and said that she had seen somebody get stabbed, or slashed, in the throat and she ran.”
Another student told CBS San Francisco, “When I got to my room, the dorm was locked down. And we got an email soon after saying it was safe to leave the room.”
The main road to enter the campus remained closed to outside traffic Wednesday night and classes were canceled until Friday.
According to CBS San Francisco, the school with more than 6,600 students is about 120 miles south of Sacramento in the San Joaquin Valley. The campus opened a decade ago and is the newest college in the University of California system, the station reported.
Police were allowing students who live on campus to come and go, but anxious parents waited in their vehicles at the end of the dark roadway about a half mile from the campus entrance.
Among them were Larry and Yen Little, who drove about 110 miles from their home in Elk Grove to pick up their daughter Dana. Larry Little said he knows incidents of campus violence are rampant.
“I knew someday it might, but I was just hoping it wouldn’t happen here. It’s a small campus out in the country,” said Little. “Thank god the guy didn’t have a gun, shooting people, killing them.”
Stabbings involving multiple victims on college campuses have not raised as much alarm as mass shootings since the attacks do not usually result in as many deaths or injuries. Several U.S. colleges have been the site of violent attacks involving bladed weapons.
A student at Morgan State University in Maryland was charged in March with slashing two other students with a pocket knife outside a campus dining hall. In 2013, a 20-year-old student at a Texas community college wounded at least 14 people during a building-to-building attack.
Applications to University of California campuses are due at the end of November. Chancellor Dorothy Leland sought to reassure families that their children would be safe if they ended up at UC Merced, which she said “may still be small in its study body but is large in its sense of community.”
“This was a tragic accident, a tragic event, OK? But the person who caused this event will no longer be able to cause an event in the future. Their children are safe here,” Leland said.