A SWAT team from the Oakland Police Department leaves the scene of the shooting… (Gary Reyes / San Jose Mercury…)
OAKLAND — A former student at a small Christian college opened fire in the middle of a classroom, police said, leaving seven people dead in one of California's worst mass killings.
Authorities and witnesses described the suspect, identified as 43-year-old One L. Goh, as calmly spraying bullets around the classroom of Oikos University on Monday morning, seemingly without discrimination.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, April 05, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Oakland shooting: An article in Section A on April 3 about a gunman killing seven people Monday at Oikos University in Oakland said that a shooting last year at a Seal Beach salon killed nine people. In the Seal Beach shooting, eight people died and one was critically injured.
"He stood up and began shooting," Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said Monday evening. Goh allegedly then left the classroom and continued his attack. "Shots were fired throughout the building," Jordan added.
Paul Singh, whose sister was one of three wounded, told Reuters that the shooter instructed students: "Get in line and I'm going to kill you all."
Tashi Wangchuk said his wife, a nursing student, locked the door to her classroom and turned off the lights after hearing the gunfire.
The gunman, he told the Associated Press, "banged on the door several times and started shooting outside," breaking the glass on the door before moving on.
There were about 35 students inside the college at the time.
Like Wangchuk's wife, many locked doors when they heard the gunfire and screaming. This made it difficult for authorities to evacuate the school and to reach some victims, whose bodies blocked the doors, Jordan said.
"We had to force our way into some rooms," he added.
The rampage unfolded on live television in the Bay Area, which included aerial shots of SWAT officers moving through the campus in an industrial area near Oakland International Airport. The video showed officers carrying wounded people out and the grim scene of bodies covered by blankets.
Goh was arrested about two hours after the shooting in front of a Safeway supermarket in an Alameda shopping center a few miles away.
Jordan said Goh allegedly commandeered a car to get to the shopping center. Witnesses told KGO-TV that Goh told a supermarket security guard that he had shot several people and wanted to talk to police. A Safeway spokeswoman declined comment, referring all questions to local police.
Police said they don't know if the gunman was targeting specific victims or what the motive might be. It was unclear why he left the school, though some reports said he either dropped out or was expelled.
It was not immediately clear how and why Goh had made his way into a classroom Monday.
The first word of trouble reached authorities shortly after 10:30 a.m., when a caller told emergency dispatchers of a woman bleeding on the ground outside the little-known college, police said.
By the time the first officers arrived three minutes later, 911 lines were flooded with terrified calls from inside the school's single-story brick building situated in a light industry and business park.
Heavily armed police and rescue personnel swarmed the neighborhood. Specialized SWAT teams made entry into the school, where officers hurried many unharmed people to safety and carried victims outside.
Five people died at the scene. Two others died after being transported to hospitals. The three injured did not suffer life-threatening injuries, police said.
"Today was an unprecedented tragedy, shocking and senseless," Jordan said at a news conference. "No words can express the gravity of this incident."
Investigators had not yet interviewed Goh or formally charged him with the shooting. They offered little information about him, saying only that he was a naturalized citizen from Korea and did not appear to have a criminal past. He lived in Virginia before moving to Oakland.
The school remained a crime scene Monday night as investigators continued the painstaking work of processing what Jordan described as "a very bloody scene with lots of evidence."
With only a few hundred students, Oikos University fills a particular and unusual niche, enrolling a heavily Korean student body and offering classes only in Bible study, nursing and music, according to its website.
Larry Reid, Oakland's City Council president who represents the part of the city where the college is located, said he had been unaware of the school's existence until its low profile was shattered Monday by the rampage, which earned the school a sudden, nightmarish notoriety.
"Today there are a number of individuals who lost their lives to senseless violence," Reid said. "It's just another sad day in my city."
Calling it "a terrible tragedy" for the city and, in particular, its Korean community, Mayor Jean Quan said the shooting "will leave the [Korean] community asking questions for a long time....I hope we will put our arms around this group of people and these families and try to bring peace back to this city."
As word of the bloodshed spread, worried family and friends of students rushed to the scene, only to be stopped alongside a horde of reporters a long block away from the school.
Timothy Yi, pastor at the Hayward Korean Baptist church, came in search of information about a member of his flock, Lydia Sim, 21. "We tried to call her and she didn't answer," Yi said. In the distance, officers held up a large white tarp to shield the macabre work of coroner officials.
Authorities did not release the names of the dead.
The school was said to be searching for Korean-speaking counselors to offer grief counseling for students and faculty.
A memorial service is scheduled for 6 p.m Tuesday at the Korean Methodist Church in Oakland.
The violence will go down as among California's worst shooting rampages. Last year, a gunman opened fire at a Seal Beach hair salon, killing nine people. In 1984, James Huberty killed 21 people at a McDonald's in San Ysidro. In 1976, a former Marine opened fire at the Cal State Fullerton library, killing seven people.