Decapitation at Virginia Tech
January 26, 2009[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]
Virginia Tech, still suffering from the carnage committed by gunman Seung-Hui Cho in April 2007 when Cho went on a shooting rampage and murdered 32 people before killing himself, is back in the news as this beleaguered institution of higher learning deals with yet another horrific incident of violence. Homicide detectives are investigating the very gruesome murder of a young Chinese female graduate student, Xin Yang, 22, that occurred shortly after 7 PM Wednesday night, January 21, 2009. Yang was a graduate student studying accounting.
Yang was having coffee with fellow Virginia Tech international graduate student Haiyang Zhu, 25, at the Au Bon Pain café inside the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson-Brown - which also houses a graduate student lounge, computer lab, study room, and reading room - when she was attacked. Police were not saying what had led up to the ultra-violent attack on Yang, or even if they had any such information, without first running it past the Commonwealth's Attorney. Yang had resided in the Graduate Life Center, but was looking for another place to live. Zhu had been assisting her in that search.
The call that a female student was being attacked inside the café came in at 7:06 PM, and the first officer on the scene arrived approximately 1 minute later.
"She (the officer) found the suspect in the café along with the victim," said Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum. "It was a perfect crime scene and the victim had been decapitated... there are some details of an investigation that we're not going to be able to talk about at this point after consultation with Commonwealth's Attorney. But obviously there is going to be a court case in the future on this."
The officer first on the scene could see that the suspect had blood on his clothes, and that the victim had been decapitated. The suspect was holding the victim's severed head in his hands. There was much blood, and the officer described the scene as "gruesome." The suspect's backpack lay nearby and, according to a police affidavit, contained other sharp instruments. According to what Chief Flinchum told reporters, there were approximately 7 witnesses to the attack. No one, as best as he had been able to ascertain, attempted to intervene during the attack on Yang, and according to published reports the witnesses never reported an argument between the two prior to the onset of the violent confrontation.
"The incident points to an isolated, very personal tragedy," said university Pres. Charles Steger.
Police believe that Zhu used a large kitchen knife to decapitate Yang. According to the police, the suspect has no known prior criminal record.
"All of his friends are very, very shocked," Kim Beisecker, director of Virginia Tech's Cranwell International Center, said to reporters. "They all indicated that they would never have expected this of him and are searching for understanding, for an explanation, as we all are. And we just don't have one…(Yang had) just the sweetest, bubbly personality. She really did make an impression with her warmth in just those two weeks. (Zhu) was polite and helpful."
University records show that the victim had arrived at Virginia Tech from Beijing, China on January 8, 2009, barely 2 weeks before her untimely death. University police said that Yang had listed Zhu, among others, as an emergency contact on university records, but it was unclear whether Yang and Zhu had met at the university or had known each other while still in China. At this early stage in the investigation it was generally believed that they had not known each other prior to meeting at Virginia Tech, and that Yang had listed him as an emergency contact after getting to know Zhu following her arrival on campus. Zhu had begun his studies at Virginia Tech during the fall semester of 2008. He was studying agriculture and applied economics.
Zhu, the son of a university professor, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail at the Montgomery County jail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. A preliminary hearing for Zhu has been placed on the court's calendar for March 5, 2009.
Virginia Tech has a system in place in which international students are paired with other international students who have been at the university for a while to assist them in adjusting to their new environment. Unfortunately for Yang, she had been matched with Zhu who had been showing her around campus since her arrival. It was not known at this early stage whether Yang and Zhu were becoming romantically involved, or not.
Those who had become acquainted with Zhu, including his landlord, described him as a confrontational person who had an abrasive personality. His landlord indicated that he had caused one problem after another with the management at the apartment complex by accusing workers of stealing items from his apartment, for refusing to turn on the heat to his unit when requested to help keep his and his neighbor's water pipes from freezing during cold weather purportedly because he was trying to avoid spending money for heat, and for keeping a large pile of firewood stacked inside his townhouse. He apparently had brought Yang to the complex recently to fill out a rental application, but insisted that Yang not provide any identification to the landlord until after he agreed to rent to her. When the landlord refused to rent to Yang under those conditions, Zhu and Yang left. His landlord also described him as "strange…hostile and belligerent."
Writing in Chinese on a blog site was discovered in the aftermath of Yang's slaying that read, in part: "Recently I've been so frustrated I think only of killing someone or committing suicide." Although the writing has been unofficially attributed to Zhu, investigators were working to confirm, or refute, that it was Zhu's writing.
In the meantime authorities are continuing to search for a motive in the grisly slaying, and management of the café where Yang was beheaded said that the popular student establishment would remain closed until the bloody mess had been cleaned up and the café returned to its normal condition.