CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Two premed students died and a third woman was injured in a murder-suicide at a Harvard University dormitory Sunday morning in what school officials termed "a tragic incident."
Sinedu Tadesse, a 20-year-old junior from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, "viciously stabbed" her roommate, Trang Ho, 20, of Lowell, Mass., just after 8 a.m., police said.
The attack awoke 27-year-old Thao Nguyen, also of Lowell, who was visiting Ho and sleeping in the other bedroom of a two-room suite. Nguyen, who is not a Harvard student, was cut several times when she rushed to Ho's defense. She was treated at the Cambridge city hospital and released.
Nguyen's cries for help aroused other students in Dunster House. Police arrived to find that Tadesse had hanged herself in a barricaded bathroom. They tried to resuscitate her, but she died on the way to the hospital.
"The stabbing apparently was without any prior quarrel or altercations, at least on this day," said Middlesex County Assistant Dist. Atty. Martin Murphy. After Tadesse's alarm clock rang about 8 a.m., she attacked Ho, who was still in bed, Murphy said at a news conference at the dormitory Sunday afternoon.
Last week, the campus newspaper received an envelope containing a note and a photo of Tadesse. The note stated: "Keep this picture. There will soon be a very juicy story involving the person in this picture." Harvard Crimson editors discarded the items, but police recovered them late Sunday after a search through the trash.
Investigators were trying to reconstruct the events of Saturday night and determine whether drugs or alcohol were involved. Nguyen told police that Tadesse and Ho had not fought during her stay, Murphy said.
Karel Liem, house master at Dunster, said both women were in good standing academically. Other dorm residents said they did not know of any history of enmity between the two, who lived together last year and chose to be roommates again.
Friends said Tadesse had seemed anxious and unhappy recently.
"I saw her last week and she seemed quite frustrated in the library studying and sort of had a glazed look on her face," said a fellow premed student who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The event marred the giddy euphoria that normally accompanies Harvard's move-out weekend, when students pack up and head home.
"It was almost surreal," said Manlio Goetzl, a 20-year-old sophomore from North Carolina. "It's so beautiful; it's Memorial Day weekend. The last thing that comes to mind is murder."
Final exams ended Saturday, and many students spent their final night of the school year at all-night parties.
"I barely had time to absorb it," said Emily Stabbins, 19, of Vermont, who lived in Dunster, a brick co-ed dormitory on the banks of the Charles River that houses about 350 students. Stabbins said she awoke late Sunday morning to find "all kinds of weird messages on my answering machine" from friends and relatives who had heard news reports about the incident.
Robert Hyman, 20, of North Tarrytown, N.Y., said he heard about the stabbings from a fellow Dunster House resident. "It's shocking, and it's sad."
Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine spent much of Sunday meeting with students inside the dormitory. The university also set up a telephone hot line for students and parents.
Still, rumors continued to fly on a campus that has had more than its share of discomfiting events in recent months. Rudenstine himself recently returned from a sudden, unannounced medical leave, reportedly to combat severe exhaustion.
And Harvard public relations manager Joe Wrinn confirmed there was a suicide earlier this year in Dunster House but said it was not related.
Last month, the school rescinded its acceptance of Cambridge honor student Gina Grant after officials learned she had been on probation for murdering her mother when she was 14 years old.
Harvard graduate student Michelle Dupree of Wisconsin said she learned of Sunday's incident as she left a church service. "This kind of puts Gina Grant in a whole new light."
Times wire services contributed to this story.