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UCLA student brutally attacked in chemistry lab

She is critically injured in slashing incident. The suspect, a 20-year-old male student, has been arrested.

October 09, 2009|Andrew Blankstein and Larry Gordon

Students in a UCLA chemistry lab watched helplessly Thursday afternoon as a classmate suddenly slashed the neck of a fellow student, causing serious injuries.

The attack occurred just past noon on the sixth floor of Young Hall, prompting swift police mobilization and leaving students shaken by the violence as word spread across campus.

One witness inside the lab told The Times that the alleged assailant, a 20-year-old male student in the class, walked up to the 20-year-old female victim and appeared to repeatedly punch her. The witness said he realized it was more serious when she slumped over, bleeding profusely from her neck.

Police have booked Damon D. Thompson on suspicion of attempted murder.

Another student, Woojin Lee, was waiting with a friend near the lab when he heard screams and crying.

"I thought somebody blew themselves up with chemicals," Lee said. "Some of the students in that room were covered with blood on their coats and latex gloves. I saw her neck; the [teacher's assistant] was trying to help her."

"It was horrifying because she was a fellow student and a partner," Lee added. "Something happens at a prestigious university like UCLA, it seems unbelievable."

Thompson was arrested inside Young Hall minutes after the incident. The name of the victim has not been released. She was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which is on campus, in critical condition. She underwent surgery and her condition was improving.

Los Angeles Police Department detectives said they don't know the motive for the attack. A law enforcement source said there might have been a verbal altercation before the slashing, but details were unclear. Both students were seniors, and some campus sources said they may have been lab partners.

UCLA officials sent a text alert to students, faculty and staff soon after the attack, telling them that an incident had occurred at Young Hall and to stay away from the area.

The attack took place between class sessions in an organic chemistry lab. The undergraduate-level lab enrolls about a dozen students and is usually led by teaching assistants. It is part of a class for about 60 students that is overseen by lecturer Alfred Bacher, according to department officials. Bacher could not be reached for comment.

Cyril Baida, a graduate student who is a teaching assistant in a lab next door, said he helped escort the victim into his room and sat her down while another teaching assistant kept applying pressure through gauze on her neck to stop the bleeding.

The victim was breathing, but was very pale and at times appeared to be passing out, said Baida, who praised police and UCLA medics for a quick and effective response to 911 calls.

"We kept trying to talk to her and tell her she was going to be OK," he recalled. "We wanted her to stay conscious."

Baida said he did not know the victim or the suspect, but was told that they were lab partners and had worked on some of the same projects.

UCLA campus spokeswoman Carol Stogsdill said that she had no information on past behavioral problems involving the suspect and that she had heard of no reports of any previous trouble in the class or between the two students.

Peter Felker, a chemistry department vice chairman, said the department also had not received any reports of trouble in the lab or complaints about the suspect's past behavior. "Nothing that I'm aware of," he said.

UCLA biochemistry professor Sabeeha Merchant and others described the mood in Young Hall after the attack as dark.

"People are shocked that something like that would happen. But because we are at the university doesn't mean we are immune from what goes on in the rest of the world. This could happen in a restaurant or a shopping mall," Merchant said.

UCLA student Saad Ahmed said the violence left even unflappable med and pre-med students in shock.

"There was blood all over the place, so much blood where you thought, 'Is she going to make it?' " Ahmed said. "People were panicking, they were in disbelief, saying, 'How could this happen at UCLA?' "

This is the second time in the last few weeks that the Westwood campus has been touched by violence. Last month, a melee at an off-campus fraternity party left three students injured.

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andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

larry.gordon@latimes.com

Times staff writers Anthony Pesce and Spencer Weiner contributed to this report.

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