- By Philip Jankowski
- Mark Wilson American-Statesman Staff
When she first heard the screaming, Rachel Prichett thought her fellow University of Texas students were just joking around.
Then she looked over from the line at the Chi’Lantro food truck and saw a man standing with a knife “that looked like a small machete.”
“It was wide and curved,” she said Monday afternoon. “At first I didn’t even think about it as an attack. I thought about it as a fake knife or whatever, and then he just grabbed this guy by the shoulder and stabbed him in the back with it.
“He was just walking around very calmly, like, with no major facial expression or running around,” Prichett said. “He was just walking around with a knife, so no one even noticed when he hit that first guy, I guess, because no one was screaming. Then everyone just screamed and ran away as fast as they could.”
In a matter of minutes, UT police say, biology junior Kendrex J. White, 21, stabbed four students — killing one and injuring three. School officials in Graham, Texas, identified UT student Harrison Brown — who is from Graham — as the student who was killed.
Economics senior Ray Arredondo said he saw swarms of people screaming and running from the epicenter of Monday’s attack, a plaza outside of Gregory Gym at 21st Street and Speedway in one of the busiest parts of the large campus.
Arredondo had been walking to a parking garage when he saw a swell of students running. Believing a shooting to be underway, he ran inside a nearby building.
One witness who wished to remain anonymous said it took seconds for it to settle in that a man was attacking students. The witness said they were sitting at a picnic table near the Chi’Lantro BBQ food truck at 21st Street and Speedway when a man wearing a bandana approached and stabbed a knife into a table.
He then looked at everyone in what appeared to be a “theatrical stunt” before turning to slash a man in the neck, the witness said. It was only after he walked up to another man and stabbed him in the back that someone screamed, “Run!”
Police did not immediately release the identities of any of the victims. One died at the scene, and the other three were being treated at University Medical Center Brackenridge.
It was about 1:49 p.m. when UT police received a call of a stabbing. The first officers got to the scene two minutes later, some tending to the wounded while another approached White, according to witnesses and UT Police Chief David Carter, who provided a timeline of events at a media briefing.
Carter said White offered no resistance, immediately complying with an officer’s order to get on the ground.
Arredondo said he emerged from the building where he was hiding to see a police officer tending to one man being given CPR near Gregory Gym’s main entrance. About 20 feet from there, another officer was giving aid to a man who appeared to have wounds to his neck and head, Arredondo said.
Nearer to Jester Center, Arredondo photographed an officer taking White into custody. He described the suspect’s demeanor as “nonchalant.”
“He looked almost unfazed by the whole thing,” Arredondo said. “He had a grim look on his face, looking back and forth at individuals. He was not struggling.”
The crowded area of students was soon cleared as UT police and Austin police homicide detectives placed barriers marking off the entire intersection. Within two hours of the attack, UT officials canceled all classes and all remaining events for the day, turning the crowded campus into a relative ghost town.
Three hours after the attack, a slow trickle of students strolled through the area, weaving in and out of buildings to avoid the web of bright yellow police tape lining the streets in every direction.
Some could be heard speaking to friends and family on their phones, asking what they knew or whether they had heard about what happened.
Austin Jacobs, a freshman who said he lives at Jester Center, said the area is usually buzzing with students.
As police continued to gather evidence, he said he still feels safe. He said that, like others, he had heard rumors that the attack might have had something to do with fraternity life. Carter said investigators have not established a connection there yet but would not rule it out.
“His motivation, obviously what is going through his mind, I can’t answer that at this time,” Carter said. “It would be premature to indicate or suggest one thing or another.”
Korbin Springer, a 19-year-old junior, said he got to know White in a Spanish class they took together this semester. White was always smiling and happy-go-lucky when they would chat before and after class, Springer said.
A little over a month ago, White stopped coming to class, and Springer assumed he had dropped it until about a week ago when White returned, upset about a traffic incident. He told Springer he had been arrested for drunken driving but said he’d had a seizure and hadn’t been drunk.
“When I saw him then, he was very depressed and not the same,” Springer said. “He was a happy guy. He was upset, I think against the police, because he felt they wrongly accused him.”
According to an arrest affidavit, police arrested White on April 4 on a charge of driving while intoxicated after he was involved in a wreck on campus.
Monday, when Springer heard about the stabbing and saw a photo of White being arrested, he was shocked.
No one answered the door at a house in Killeen where public records indicated White once lived. A woman who answered the phone at the home hung up when she was told she was speaking with a reporter.
Even as the active situation ended quickly with White’s arrest, the event touched off fear for many at the university. One penned an open letter to university President Greg Fenves calling him a failure. Meanwhile, rumors of a bomb threat at one building came just as reports of a stabbing in West Campus fueled social media hysteria.
Only last week, a drive-by shooting in which no one was injured was reported on campus. No one was arrested in that incident. Vandals also targeted four fraternity houses in April, leading to increased patrols around those houses.
“I am too scared to leave my apartment,” communications senior Erin Gust said in an open letter to Fenves. “I do not want to go back on campus. I cannot concentrate to study for my exams. Being in college is about learning and growing, but this cannot happen if people are living in fear. Your students are living in fear, in fear of being shot, stalked, raped, stabbed or even murdered while trying to learn and better themselves on your campus. This is not a learning environment. This is an environment of anxiety and fear.”
Update: This reference to the West Campus stabbing has been updated in this story.