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Police find no obvious motive in UCLA slashing

Suspect Damon Thompson sometimes acted erratically, officials say. He is being held on $1-million bond and will be arraigned Tuesday. The victim, a fellow student, shows improvement.

October 10, 2009|Larry Gordon and Robert Faturechi

Detectives investigating the case of a UCLA student who allegedly slashed the throat of a classmate have still not discovered what prompted the violence and are looking into reports that he showed erratic behavior in the past that had worried other students, authorities said Friday.

Investigators said they will continue to examine the background and mental health of the suspect, Damon Thompson, 20, a senior who came from Belize to attend UCLA. But nothing so far points to a direct motive for what appeared to be an unprovoked knife attack in an organic chemistry lab class on Thursday afternoon. The 20-year-old victim was reported to be recovering Friday.

Thompson is being held on $1-million bail on suspicion of attempted murder and is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.

The UCLA media relations office released a terse statement after reports that Thompson sometimes behaved erratically, including keeping odd hours and sometimes making disconnected-sounding outbursts. "While Thompson was known to our Student Affairs Office prior to the incident, privacy laws preclude us from discussing it," the statement said. Campus spokesman Phil Hampton said that the Student Affairs Office includes psychological counseling services but he declined to say whether psychologists had ever treated Thompson.

Relatives in Fontana said Friday they do not believe that Thompson would commit a violent act.

"He cares about what people think about him too much," said second cousin Akilah Williams, 17. "He gets stressed-out but that doesn't mean he'd do something crazy."

Los Angeles Police Department detectives said that the investigation so far has shown nothing to indicate a relationship between Thompson and his alleged victim. "To my knowledge, they were classmates and classmates only," said Det. Mike Pelletier, who added that investigators would interview the victim when she more fully recovers.

UCLA police said Friday that there are no records of any complaints filed against Thompson and that he had no campus arrests.

A student who had some interaction with Thompson in a UCLA dorm last school year described him as "an eccentric guy" who would wake up at 3 a.m. and start tidying up other people's possessions. This student, who asked not to be identified because of the circumstances of the case, said Thompson sometimes made statements that seemed to have little bearing on reality. But he said he was unaware if concerns had been reported to officials.

The victim's family, who asked authorities not to identify her, issued a statement Friday saying that she "is showing signs of improvement, and her surgeons expect a good result as she continues to heal." Her parents expressed gratitude to the police and emergency responders, and "for the excellent medical care she is receiving at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center."

Thompson, an only child who had no other close family in the United States, frequently stayed at his relatives' home in Fontana. "He was even nice to my dog," said cousin Jabari Williams, 16.

Akilah Williams said her only complaint was that Thompson occasionally raided the refrigerator. "He would eat everything," she said. "I mean everything."

Albert Courey, chairman of UCLA's chemistry and biochemistry department, said lab classes were canceled Friday on Young Hall's sixth floor, where the stabbing occurred. All classes are expected to resume Monday, he said.

The organic chemistry lab class is rigorous, with six hours of labs and two hours of lectures a week, Courey said. While citing privacy rules that preclude releasing students' grades, he said that Thompson appeared to be a competent student in that class. Courey said he had not met Thompson and had not heard of any trouble in the class.

Meanwhile, campus officials praised the actions of faculty and teaching assistants who aided the victim, calling them heroic. Among those praised was Stacie Nakamoto, a UCLA biochemistry lecturer whose office is across the hall from the lab and who helped apply pressure to the victim's neck wounds until medics and police arrived.

Nakamoto, 36, who has a 3-year-old daughter, said her maternal instincts kicked in. "When I was holding her, one of the thoughts that went through my head was that this is somebody's daughter," she said.


Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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