EXCLUSIVE: UT stabbing suspect never the same after crash, parents say

3:51 p.m Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Local

For Kendrex White’s parents, April 4 marked a critical turning point in their son’s life — the beginning of a descent from being a college student with academic accolades to an accused killer charged with an unprovoked attack on four fellow students at the University of Texas.

That day, White was in a crash at Whitis Avenue and Dean Keeton Street, leading to his drunken driving arrest and major damage to his car. Kenneth and Shantina White don’t know if their son hit his head, but they do know he never acted the same afterward.

American-Statesman Staff, KVUE News
Kenneth and Shantina White, the parents of Kendrex White, said that they tried repeatedly to get their son help.

“There was just something wrong,” Kenneth White said of his son. “You could ask him a question, and the answer was just erratic. A lot of hand movement. To see him, like he was, you get frightful.”

The Whites said they initially questioned their son’s symptoms. Then he had his first-ever seizure.

Over the next five weeks, Kenneth and Shantina White took him to the emergency room in their hometown of Killeen, which led to an additional stay in a psychiatric facility through an involuntary commitment. Doctors ran multiple tests, including brain scans, but the parents say they never settled on an official diagnosis.

The Whites got their son back to Austin by late April for school, but made the 150-mile roundtrip every few days to check on him and take him to dinner. At one point, he disappeared, and they called the police and asked check on him.

Within days of their last conversation, the Whites got a call that their only child had gone on a stabbing spree at UT, killing 19-year-old Harrison Brown and injuring three others in what police say was a random attack.

The parents say they are still trying to comprehend what happened.

“My heart goes out to all families involved in this incident,” Shantina White said, at times speaking through tears. “We are so sorry. We are so sorry. We didn’t see this coming a mile away, and we are so sorry. I’m still trying to wake up from this nightmare.”

The Whites, who were both in the military and stationed at Fort Hood, agreed to a one-hour interview with the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV on Wednesday, nine days after the attack that sent fear throughout the Central Austin campus. Police have said they think Kendrex White’s mental health likely played a role and are working to gather medical records and other evidence that might provide insight into what happened.

The comments from White’s parents, who said they wanted to give the public more information about their son’s mental health, came the day after he was interviewed by Houston station KPRC-TV from the psychiatric ward at the Travis County Jail, during which he recounted his memories of the attack.

“I walked around campus a little bit, just kind of enjoying the ambiance,” White told the station. “It was weird because no one noticed me. I pulled out my knife. My heart started beating really fast and no one moved and then I struck a table and no one acknowledged that I did that. They kept going on with their conversations.”

American-Statesman Staff, KVUE News
Kendrex White

He said he doesn’t remember stabbing anyone, however.

“I had a dream. It showed my face and I thought maybe it was possible I could have done it, but I didn’t remember doing it myself, if that makes any sense,” White told the station.

On Wednesday, White’s lawyers condemned the interview, saying White lacked the mental capacity to understand that he was talking to the media.

Kenneth and Shantina White said their son graduated with top honors from high school in Killeen and always wanted to attend UT, despite other college offers. He was studying biology and wanted to become a cardiologist — a profession he chose as a child.

“Whatever he did, he did to his best,” Kenneth White said. “As parents, we had never even been to the principal’s office.”

They said that before the accident, their son appeared well-adjusted at UT. He made new friends, but also maintained relationships with high school classmates attending the university.

An arrest affidavit shows White may have been having symptoms of mental distress the night of the crash. The court document said that he told officers that he had been prescribed “happy pills” and was lying on the ground when police showed up.

On the day of the stabbing, White’s lawyer on the DWI charge recognized him from a photograph of UT officers arresting him and sent it to his parents.

They confirmed it was him and raced to Austin.

“You look at the magnitude of how many families are hurting right now, and that just makes your hurting that much worse,” Kenneth White said. “It’s hard to fathom.”

Shantina White added, “Kendrex has a great heart, and I don’t what’s going on with him, but I know this is not the child we know.”