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Berkeley student killed near campus

The senior, from Bellflower, was stabbed during a fight outside a sorority. A suspect is in custody.

May 04, 2008|Tim Reiterman and Rich Connell | Times Staff Writers

BERKELEY — A 21-year-old UC Berkeley senior from Bellflower was fatally stabbed during a fight early Saturday in a sorority parking lot blocks from campus, and police arrested a man seen running from the scene, authorities said.

Christopher Wootton, an engineering student and Sigma Pi fraternity officer who was weeks away from graduation, was stabbed about 2:45 a.m. in the Chi Omega sorority parking lot.

Wootton died en route to a hospital, police said.

Andrew Thomas Hoeft-Edenfield, 20, of Berkeley was arrested on suspicion of murder after several witnesses said they saw him fleeing and tossing away a bloody knife, said Berkeley Police Sgt. Mary C. Kusmiss.

Police responding to reports of a stabbing in the 2400 block of Warring Street found about 20 college-aged males surrounding Wootton, who had been stabbed in the left side of his upper chest, Kusmiss said.

Witnesses said that Hoeft-Edenfield and Wootton were part of a large group that had been in an argument that escalated to a fight.

"It was some guy being belligerent and wanting to fight for no reason," said Joe Mazzella, president of Sigma Pi fraternity and Wootton's roommate.

Mazzella was walking a friend back to a dormitory in the predawn hours Saturday when he got a call on his cellphone that Wootton had been in a fight.

"I ran back and saw him on the ground. It was a blur. I lost control. It was dark. I could see no blood. The police were there," he said. "We knew he was stabbed but we were hoping for the best."

A fraternity brother who had emergency medical training tried to keep pressure on the wound to stem the flow of blood, Mazzella said. He and others followed the ambulance to the hospital, but were told by the head nurse that she could not tell them their friend's condition.

Mazzella -- who called Wootton "a big brother and mentor" -- watched the local news with his fellow fraternity members Saturday night.

"I am thinking about a lost friend right now," he said. "He was a happy, fun-loving guy and serious when he needed to be. He loved his friends and was out there because he worried about his friends."

Mazzella's father, a San Diego attorney, flew in Saturday to be with his son, as did several other parents.

"You don't expect this," Dan Mazzella said. "These kids are good kids and they're being victimized by violent crime."

Late Saturday, friends placed lighted candles outside the white-stucco fraternity house. In the front hall, pictures of Wootton were on a cork bulletin board: snapshots from his days as a high school football player, college pictures with his arms around friends and in a tie at a formal event.

At her home in Lakewood on Saturday night, Wootton's grandmother, Sharon Priddy, said it was her understanding that her grandson was trying to break up the fight.

"Everybody loved him. He had so many friends. He was never in trouble," Priddy said. "To think he was killed so senselessly."

She said her grandson grew up in Bellflower with his parents and older brother. His mother died after a long illness when he was 14. Wootton graduated with honors from Mayfair High School in Lakewood and was offered scholarships to MIT and UC Santa Barbara. He chose Berkeley over MIT because he wanted to stay in California, she said.

He was set to graduate with honors May 24, and his family had just bought plane tickets to attend the ceremony. Instead, his father and brother left for Berkeley on Saturday and were hoping to obtain more details from investigators today.

"He was such a good boy," Priddy said. He played baseball and soccer growing up, she recalled.

Wootton had been working as a researcher for a Berkeley professor and intended to work in the field of energy, she said. He planned to attend graduate school there to study nuclear engineering.

In a statement, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said that "the Berkeley Police Department announced that it had a suspect in custody who had confessed to the killing" and that university police were assisting the department.

"This futile and senseless killing is a loss felt by us all, including his teachers, friends and especially his fraternity brothers at Sigma Pi," Birgeneau said.

On his MySpace.com page, Wootton called himself a die-hard Dodgers fan.

"I love Jesus, my family, my amazingly beautiful/wonderful girlfriend, Brandy, and my friends. I always have a blast hanging out with the homies and I absolutely cherish my girlfriend. I'm a devoted Sigma Pi for life," he wrote.

Wootton kept a blog on his MySpace page that included posts about fighting and drinking and ruminations about what he might tell his children about his college years. In one blog post, he recounted a fight that took place during a surprise weekend visit from his older brother Josh.

Wootton said he and Josh took on a "220-lb" man who had been kicked out of a fraternity party. "One of my fraternity brothers was being disrespected." Wootton said on the blog that he accidentally hit his brother in the eye during the fight.

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