- Mark Wilson
- Elizabeth Findell American-Statesman Staff
Investigators believe an aspiring doctorat the University of Texas accused of cutting down a fellow student and injuring three others was suffering from mental health issues before the attack.
University of Texas Police Chief David Carter on Tuesday said investigators had learned that Kendrex J. White, a 21-year-old junior studying biology, had been “involuntarily committed” recently in a different city, but wouldn’t go into specifics on the circumstance of his detention.
Austin police later confirmed that the detention was in Bell County, but additional information from authorities there wasn’t immediately available.
Carter also said UT police had arrested White on April 4 for driving while intoxicated. During his arrest, he told an officer he took “happy pills,” according to an arrest affidavit. A report filed by UT police said he told officers he was supposed to take one 35-milligram Zoloft pill, and that he had taken two of them around 4 p.m. the day before.
Rumors had swirled across campus and on social media almost immediately afterthe attack Monday afternoon near Gregory Gym that White might have been targeting fraternity members. For weeks, members of the Greek community at the university have been on edge since graffiti popped up on several fraternity houses last month with the words “racist” and “rapist” painted in large black letters.
Carter said none of those targeted in Monday’s attack — the second fatal episode of violence on campus in just over a year — was wearing any clothing that would indicate that they were members of fraternities, and there doesn’t seem to be any motive for the attack beyond White’s possible mental health problems.
“This was not a conspiracy. This was not a person that had a vendetta against any particular group,” Carter said. “We have solid grounds and reason to believe that the individual was suffering from mental health issues.”
In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, Carter paused as he spoke, taking slow, deliberate breaths as emotion seemed to sporadically wash over him.
“(White) still will, and needs to be, held accountable, and he is culpable for his actions,” he said.
He said the fact that the attack came a little more than a year after the slaying of UT dance freshman Haruka Weiser was difficult, but he made a point to outline the differences between her death and Monday’s incident.
“Last year was a case involving a stranger, a homeless, a transient person who came on campus and did that vile act. This year, it happened (to be) one of our fellow students that (were) not only the victims, but also the suspect,” he said.
Carter said that, as students face stresses and pressures, “it is important for us to take care of each other.”
“I’m not saying that Mr. White didn’t receive the appropriate attention, or whatever his particular issues were,” Carter said, “but the point is I want to remind folks that it’s really important to let us know — let the Behavior Concerns Advice Line know — when you see somebody that is suffering from some kind of an issue, so hopefully we can get in front of that.”
White’s fellow students said the violence he’s accused of committing stunned them. They described him as friendly and happy, a pre-med student looking forward to being a doctor, and an active member of Christian, African-American and volunteer campus organizations.
“I’m honestly in shock right now,” said Jessica Gonzalez in a Facebook message Monday evening. “I met him because I was sitting alone freshman year in the dorm cafeteria and he came up to me and asked if I wanted to sit with him.”
“He never showed any signs of anything like this,” said Bria Lacour, 23, a UT senior who said she was distraught Tuesday. “He just seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. He was a very kind person.”
Lacour got to know White when they both volunteered in 2014 and 2015 for Real Role Models, which provided elementary school mentoring, meals to the homeless and other philanthropic pursuits. White came to every meeting until the organization disbanded, Lacour said.
“He always brought joy to my life and to other organizations as well,” she said. “Maybe it wasn’t as easy to know him on a super deep level because he always seemed so surface-level happy.”
Aaron Conrado, 28, said he served as a teaching assistant for a genetics class White took in the fall of 2015.
“He always had a smile on his face,” he said. “He had a really positive attitude.”
Conrado described White as a go-getter who hit the books hard and frequently went to his office hours.
The last time Conrado saw White was about two weeks ago when they bumped into each other on campus.
He said they talked for 10 to 15 minutes, and White was his usual cheery self. He told Conrado he was prepping for finals and the MCAT, and he never let on that anything was amiss.
“He had a bright future ahead of him, (and) now that’s kind of gone,” Conrado said. “The big thing that I take away from this (is that) the people who are smiling the most or seem the happiest are (sometimes) the ones who are troubled on the inside.”
UT President Gregory L. Fenves said he was saddened and angered by the incident, and he sent his thoughts and prayers to the family of Harrison Brown, the student who died, and the other three victims of the attack.
Fenves said he spoke with Brown’s mother Tuesday morning, who told him how proud he was to be a Longhorn. He was in the university’s undergraduate studies program, and was only in the first stages of deciding what he would one day become.
“He was interested in the College of Liberal Arts, and maybe an economics major, but his brother John told me he really wanted to follow his passion with music,” Fenves said. “His family and our community will never be able to hear Harrison play and sing again, and for this, our hearts are breaking and we are deeply, deeply saddened.”
Carter said two of the other victims had been released from the hospital Tuesday, but a third was still being held for additional medical treatment.