April 2, 2012
OAKLAND, Calif. — A gunman opened fire Monday at a Christian university in California, killing at least seven people, wounding three more and setting off an intense, chaotic manhunt that ended with his capture at a nearby shopping center, authorities said.
The gunfire erupted around midmorning at Oikos University. Heavily armed officers swarmed the school in a large industrial park near the Oakland airport and, for at least an hour, believed the gunman could still be inside.
Tashi Wangchuk, whose wife attended the school and witnessed the shooting, said he was told by police that the gunman first shot a woman at the front desk, then continued shooting randomly in classrooms.
Wangchuk said his wife, Dechen Wangzom, was in her vocational nursing class when she heard gunshots. She locked the door and turned off the lights, Wangchuk said he was told by his wife, who was still being questioned by police Monday afternoon.
The gunman “banged on the door several times and started shooting outside and left,” he said. Wangchuk said no one was hurt inside his wife’s classroom, but that the gunman shot out the glass in the door. He said she did not know the man.
“She’s a hero,” he said.
Television footage showed bloodied victims on stretchers being loaded into ambulances. Several bodies covered in sheets were laid out on a patch of grass at the school. One body was loaded into a van.
Police spokeswoman Cynthia Perkins said seven people were dead. She did not release any other details about the victims.
Myung Soon Ma, the school’s secretary, said she could not provide any details about what happened at the small private school, which serves the Korean community with courses from theology to Asian medicine.
“I feel really sad, so I cannot talk right now,” she said, speaking from her home.
Police believe the shooter acted alone, though they have not discussed a possible motive.
Those connected to the school, including the founder and several students, described the gunman as a former nursing student, though there were conflicting reports about his current status.
Officer Johnna Watson said the suspect is an Asian male in his 40s and was taken into custody at a shopping center in the neighboring city of Alameda.
Watson said most of the wounded or dead were shot inside the building. The industrial park in which the school is located also includes the county food bank and a local Girl Scouts headquarters.
“It’s a very fluid situation,” Watson said, declining to discuss details of the arrest or a possible motive.
The suspect was detained at a Safeway supermarket about three miles from the university, about an hour after the shooting.
A security guard at the supermarket approached the man because he was acting suspiciously, KGO-TV reported. The man told the guard that he needed to talk to police because he shot people, and the guard called authorities.
“It looked like they stopped him at the door to see if he had anything in his pockets that he had stolen,” shopper Lisa Resler, who witnessed the encounter, told KGO-TV. “There was no fight.”
Pastor Jong Kim, who founded the school about 10 years ago, told the Oakland Tribune that he did not know if the shooter was expelled or dropped out.
Kim said he heard about 30 rapid-fire gunshots in the building. “I stayed in my office,” he said.
Deborah Lee, who was in an English language class, said she heard five to six gunshots at first. “The teacher said, ‘Run,’ and we run,” she said. “I was OK, because I know God protects me. I’m not afraid of him.”
Angie Johnson told the San Francisco Chronicle that she saw a young woman leave the building with blood coming from her arm and crying: “I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot.”
The injured woman said the shooter was a man in her nursing class who got up and shot one person at point-blank range in the chest before spraying the room with bullets, Johnson said.
“She said he looked crazy all the time,” she said the victim told her, “but they never knew how far he would go.”
According to its website, Oikos University also offers studies in music and nursing. A telephone message left on the university’s main voicemail was not immediately returned.
Jerry Sung, the university’s accountant, said the school offers courses in both Korean and English to less than 100 students. He said the campus consisted of one building. Sung said many of its students went on to work in nursing and ministry.
“The founder felt there was a need for theology and nursing courses for Korean-Americans who were newer to the community,” Sung said. “He felt they would feed more comfortable if they had Korean-American professors.”