A year after a stabbing attack that shook UC Merced, little about the campus’ emergency protocol has changed, because it worked well, campus leaders said.
On Nov. 4, 2015, 18-year-old Faisal Mohammad entered an early-morning class with a list of plans that included killing specific students and anyone else who got in his way, according to law enforcement. He stabbed and slashed four people, all of whom survived, before he was killed by a campus police officer on Scholars Lane Bridge minutes after beginning his attack, authorities said.
Kevin Lao, 20, of Los Angeles, was in his second year on campus on the day of the attacks. He was in his girlfriend’s dorm room and she was about to leave for class, he said, when he asked her to stay just a little longer.
If they hadn’t stayed a few more minutes, he said, they probably would have been on the bridge when the fatal interaction happened. “Honestly, it was a bit scary,” the mechanical engineering student told the Merced Sun-Star. “To wake up and think that actually happened on our campus.”
Honestly, it was a bit scary. To wake up and think that actually happened on our campus.
Kevin Lao, 20, of Los Angeles, a UC Merced student
By most accounts, the campus pulled together and it’s still common to see students wearing the #BobcatStrong T-shirts that became a trending Twitter hashtag after the stabbings. Students also organized a couple of ceremonies to talk about their feelings and to reclaim the bridge.
Thanks to an assist from allied police agencies, the response to the emergency went about as well as could be expected, according to campus interim police Chief Chou Her.
“Like every other police department, we have procedures and protocols that we follow,” he said. “Everything went according to how we would practice it.”
But the school may have also benefited from some luck. On the morning of the attack, Mohammad started at the Classroom and Office Building and headed west across the campus, passing an officer in the library.
Her said Officer Olaf Lopez was responding to an unrelated alarm in the library when he was called to the site of the attack and spotted Mohammad.
Our resources were pretty thin. They still are pretty thin in what we do have. But we’re making strides. We’re making improvements.
Interim police Chief Chou Her
The campus typically has two officers on duty at any given time, and sometimes one, Her said.
“Our resources were pretty thin. They still are pretty thin in what we do have,” he said. “But we’re making strides. We’re making improvements.”
Since then, 21st District Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, introduced a bill that appropriated about $1.3 million for security measures at UC Merced, a direct response to the knife attack.
The campus also offers a number of services related to mental health, which are seeing greater use since the attack. The number of students seeking mental health-related services in October was 75 percent greater than the same time last year, according to Myrla Seibold, the associate director of counseling and psychological services.
In the three weeks following the attack, Seibold said, counselors spoke to about 1,500 students on the then-6,600 student campus. Those near the attacks were approached by counselors, and others sought help on their own.
“We had a tremendous outreach at the time after the campus violence,” she said.
We want to help build support systems and help students know that they are part of a larger community, and create opportunities for students to be engaged.
Charles Nies, vice chancellor of student affairs
The administration was, for the most part, satisfied with the response to the emergency, according to Charles Nies, vice chancellor of student affairs. The most glaring shortfall was that the school’s informational materials were not multilingual, he said, so some parents didn’t get the news as quickly as others.
The campus has made moves to fix those materials, he said. Nies said administrators met regularly to discuss protocols, but no formal report was produced.
The campus has also stepped up its effort to educate the campus community about services on campus. Still, heading off violence such as that from Mohammad remains difficult, Nies said.
“We want to help build support systems and help students know that they are part of a larger community, and create opportunities for students to be engaged,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, their choice of the level of engagement, honestly, is going to be theirs.”