A USC film student died of stab wounds suffered in a fight several blocks north of the campus early Thursday, just two weeks after a pair of sexual assaults prompted police to issue a university-wide public safety warning.
Bryan Richard Frost, 23, an Idaho native and a student in the School of Cinematic Arts, was walking with two other students past a gated apartment complex near 28th Street and Orchard Avenue about 2:30 a.m. when the struggle occurred, authorities said.
The students may have rattled a gate, triggering an argument with a man in the complex, officials said. "The argument escalated into a physical fight," said Los Angeles Police Officer Kate Lopez. "The victim ended up getting stabbed."
The attacker fled. Frost was pronounced dead at California Hospital Medical Center. No arrests have been made.
The death, coming so soon after the start of the academic year, touched off a wave of grief and anxiety. Students are demanding improved security along off-campus streets that are home to fraternities and student apartments.
"We spend a lot of money to go here, we think it should be safe," said Celeste McWhorter, a 21-year-old senior who lives north of campus. "You'd think at night they'd have something where there are people on every corner, doing something besides running around on campus . . . keeping students from crossing crosswalks on their bikes."
By Thursday evening, police had searched the Orchard Avenue apartment complex where the stabbing occurred and interviewed residents. Investigators said it did not appear that the attacker knew Frost, or that the fight was gang-related, authorities said.
Frost, who friends said transferred to USC after two years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., was getting a second bachelor's degree in the cinema school after earning one in economics. Jens Midthun, president of USC's undergraduate student body and Frost's Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother, described Frost as a "fun guy" and a "free spirit" who was not the type of person to get into fights.
"We are all concerned. This is a terrible incident, and we never want something like this to happen again," Midthun said. The fraternity row and residential areas north of campus are generally safe and well-patrolled, he said, but student leaders want the university to see how security measures can be improved.
USC's 190-officer Department of Public Safety will increase off-campus patrols and take other steps to meet students' and parents' concerns, said Chief Carey Drayton. But he doubted such steps could have prevented the stabbing. "When people get engaged in a fight, unfortunately some people don't fight fair," he said. "This was a fight on the street that turned into a tragic incident."
The death comes about a week and a half after two female USC students were sexually assaulted in separate early morning incidents near their university-owned, off-campus housing, within blocks of where Frost was stabbed. No arrests have been made in those assaults. Authorities say there is no connection between the sexual assaults and Thursday's stabbing, except that they all occurred in the early morning.
On Thursday night, about 120 USC students joined in a candlelight vigil in front of the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on 28th Street. (Frost lived a few blocks away.) A large photo of Frost, smiling and rosy-cheeked, was on display. Students hugged and some wept.
Among the speakers at the half-hour ceremony was Rishab Mehra, one of Frost's roommates. Mehra -- a business and film major from New Delhi -- urged the crowd to salvage something from the death. "Life can be taken away from us, so live for the most of it. Don't waste it," he said.
The Rev. Jim Burklo, USC's associate dean of religious life, said that "many lives have been shattered by what happened today, and many hearts were broken." But he asked the students to "do something very hard -- to forgive." And he raised high a lighted candle and asked the crowd to join him in declaring, "we forgive."
Michael L. Jackson, USC's vice president for student affairs, told students that he understood their worries about crime and stressed that the school would do its best to increase safety.
"USC is by and large a pretty safe place," he said in an interview. "That said, sometimes bad things happen. Our goal is to reduce them and to respond to the individuals affected."
Friends described Frost as a reserved person who was extremely loyal and decent to his friends. "It was common acceptance that he was one of the most controlled and poised individuals among us," said fraternity president Idris Jatoi.
Friends said Frost could have used his economics degree to get a lucrative job in the business world but instead followed his passion for film.
"He was doing what he wanted to do, and I really admire him for that life attitude," Midthun said.