AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The man suspected of stabbing four people 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.
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.
Witnesses described a sudden and seemingly random assault on strangers the middle of the campus of one of the nation’s largest universities.
Rachel Prichett said she was standing in line at a food truck outside a gym when she saw a man with a knife resembling a machete approach the person standing behind her.
“The guy was standing next to me,” Prichett said. “He grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved the knife in it. I just started running as fast as I could.”
Carter described the weapon as a “Bowie-style” hunting knife. He said the stabbings occurred within a one-block area as the attacker “calmly walked around the plaza.”
White was an active member of the Black Health Professionals Organization student organization on campus, said Melody Adindu, the group’s new president. She said he 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.
Ex-classmate Angela Bonilla called White “the sweetest guy, laughing and having a good time with people.”
At the university, student Ray Arredondo said he was walking to his car when a mass of students near the gym started running.
“They were just screaming, ‘Run! Get out of here!'” Arredondo said.
Arredondo later saw what looked like CPR being performed on someone outside the front door of the gym. Another student was sitting on a bench being treated for cuts to the head or neck, he said.
One person died at the scene. The others were taken to the hospital.
An administrator with the Graham school district, northwest of Fort Worth, identified the person who was killed as Harrison Brown, who graduated from the high school there before enrolling at the university. The district said in a statement that Brown “was an inspiration to everyone around him.”
The attacker did not resist when officers confronted him at gunpoint, Carter said.
Lindsey Clark said she saw the suspect get tackled by police as he was running toward the entrance of Jester Hall, a complex of dormitories and classrooms. She described him as wearing a bandanna and gray sweatshirt and said he appeared quiet and subdued as police held him on the ground.
“You could see and hear people running and screaming: ‘There he is!'” before he was tackled by officers, Clark said.
The University of Texas is blocks from downtown Austin and the Texas Capitol and is one of the nation’s largest universities.
Adindu and other students complained on social media that it took too long for the campus officials to send a text alert of the attack. Texts to students showed a nearly 30-minute lag between the arrest and warning, even though city and county emergency offices were tweeting about the incident when they first responded.
Carter said White was confronted and arrested within two minutes of the first call to police and the situation was immediately under control. The campus siren was not used because there was no need for a lockdown to keep people in place, he said.
“There was no ongoing threat. We had him in custody as soon as we arrived,” Carter said.
The attack occurred in the central campus, just a short walk from the administration building and the landmark clock tower that was the scene of a mass shooting in 1966.
Associated Press Writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.