Police: Suspect in Texas stabbings had mental health issues
AUSTIN, Texas — The man suspected of stabbing four students at the University of Texas, one fatally, suffered from mental health troubles and had been involuntarily committed for treatment in another city, authorities said Tuesday.
University Police Chief David Carter said Kendrex J. White was “obviously” suffering from some kind of mental difficulties, but he did not elaborate on the suspect’s condition or treatment.
“This was not a conspiracy. This was not a person that had a vendetta against any particular group,” Carter said.
White, 21, who was enrolled at the Austin campus, was armed with a large hunting knife. He was described by former classmates as intelligent and easygoing and was active in a student group for black professionals.
Two of the people wounded in Monday’s attack were treated and released from hospitals, and a third remained hospitalized, university President Greg Fenves said.
The student who was fatally stabbed was identified as freshman Harrison Brown. Fenves described him as a talented musician who had not yet decided on a major. The president met with Brown’s family Tuesday morning.
“His family and our community will never be able to hear Harrison play and sing again,” Fenves said.
Brown was the first person to be stabbed as White struck a path across a plaza in the heart of campus. The area is near a gym and recreation center and one of the school’s largest dorm and classroom complexes.
Before the attacks, White was seen in the student activity center “appearing normal.” As he left there, he kicked a woman as if to get her out of his way, the police chief said.
Wielding a large “Bowie-style” knife, White attacked Brown, then stabbed another man sitting at a picnic table in the back of the head. A third man was stabbed while waiting in line at a food truck before White assaulted a fourth victim, Carter said.
White walked into a dormitory still holding the knife but did not attack anyone else before he was apprehended. Officers were on the scene about 90 seconds after the first call, a response that officials believe possibly saved others, Carter said.
White was charged with murder, and more charges are expected, acting Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said.
The site of the attack was along a tree-covered avenue that is a major thoroughfare for students walking to and from class. It’s also short walk from the administration building and the landmark clock tower that was the scene of a mass shooting in 1966, and not far from where freshman Haruka Weiser was killed while walking home from class in April 2016.
The plaza was re-opened to foot traffic by Tuesday morning. Senior Montana Moore brought flowers to place on the tables. Someone else left candles.
“I don’t want people to walk by this today and be scared or feel a sense of horror,” Moore said. “Maybe when people walk by, maybe it will bring a little hope to them … There’s been a lot of tragedy on campus in my time here.”
Sophomore Brooke Petersen sat alone at one of the tables. She said there was a general sense of unease among her friends.
“I was even concerned to go to class today. That happened in broad daylight. You don’t expect that to happen,” Petersen said.
Fenves said he understood the fears given the violence on campus over the last year.
“We recognize there is tremendous pain among the student body,” Fenves said. “They are asking: How can this happen again and will it happen again? And I’m feeling the same way.”
Some students complained that school officials were slow to use the school’s emergency alert system. Many of them first learned of the attacks through news reports and social media.
The system’s first emergency texts were not sent until almost 30 minutes after the attack, and the campus sirens were not sounded.
“If there is an ongoing threat, we would have a process where we put the campus on lockdown,” Carter said. “There was not an ongoing threat. It had been resolved.
“We also recognize if there is a vacuum and police are not providing information, somebody is going to fill that, especially in the social media world. That’s a challenge for all police departments,” Carter said.
White was an active member of the Black Health Professionals Organization student organization on campus. Group President Melody Adindu said White was passionate about his work and was “very interactive and easygoing.”
Some of White’s former classmates at Killeen High School, near the gates of the Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, had similar recollections.
“He was a really smart guy in high school. He was always nice, had plenty of friends and was in the international baccalaureate program. I’m definitely surprised he would do this,” Kay’Lynn Wilkerson told the Killeen Daily Herald.
White had a recent arrest for driving while intoxicated and told officers he had been prescribed “happy pills,” which the arrest report noted as the antidepressant Zoloft, according to Austin television station KXAN.
Associated Press Writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
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