Oakland has the misfortune among California cities to be racked by daily shootings and frequent bouts of violence. But the events on Monday morning stunned even jaded crime watchers. A small religious school for immigrants looking to improve their English and develop career skills had suddenly become the site of one of the worst incidents of mass killing in the entire state in recent years.
At around 10:30 a.m., a man who has yet to be officially identified by the police opened fire in a classroom at Oikos University. Lucas Garcia, who teaches English as a second language there, told TIME that he heard “half a dozen shots” before sticking his head out his classroom door. When he heard someone shout, “He’s got a gun!” he ushered his class of about 20 students out the back door and walked with them to the parking lot of a neighboring Walmart. The shooting was taking place in the nursing department on the far side of the campus.
While Garcia and his students were able to walk away to safety, others closer to incident found themselves in danger. At an impromptu press conference at the edge of an adjacent Toyota dealership, Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan immigrant whose wife Dechen was in a nursing class at the time, said that she had heard shots coming from an adjacent classroom. Unable to escape, she locked the door from the inside and turned out the lights. The shooter walked to the door, banged it with his fist, then shot through the door several times before walking away. Miraculously, Dechen emerged uninjured. After being allowed past the crime-scene tape to speak to his wife, Wangchuk said he could see blood on the building’s interior walls.
It is not yet known whether the victims were found in the same place or in different sections of the nursing department, but the toll was gruesome: seven people were killed, three injured. It is the worst school shooting in the U.S. since 2007, when a student at Virginia Tech shot 32 people to death and wounded many others before killing himself. Just over a month ago, on Feb. 27, three students were fatally shot in a high school in Chardon, Ohio.
The Oakland gunman, whom the police have so far only identified as an Asian man in his 40s, fled the scene in a car. He was later caught in the neighboring island suburb of Alameda, where police confirmed they detained a suspect. However, two local TV stations, citing sources, are reporting that an Oikos nursing student named One Goh Ko (pronounced Onay Go Ko) is believed to be the suspect. He was allegedly absent for months from school and then, according to the reports, returned on Monday morning with a handgun to stage the assault on Oikos.
At a press conference several hours after the incident, a police spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the motives of the shooter or his affiliation with Oikos University. However, the school’s founder, pastor Jong Kim, has told the Oakland Tribune that the suspect was a former student in the nursing program. Kim, who did not name the suspect, gave no indication whether the alleged gunman was expelled or had dropped out voluntarily. Founded in 2004, Oikos University is a Christian-affiliated institute of higher learning with programs in nursing and religion. The school does not appear on the U.S. Department of Education’s list of accredited schools.
Police from at least three area cities arrived to assist at the scene, including a SWAT team from Oakland police; the U.S. Marshals; and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents. Moving through the building, the officers searched for injured people. In a statement released in the afternoon, California Governor and former Oakland mayor Jerry Brown offered his condolences. “The tragic loss of life at Oikos University today is shocking and sad,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and friends and the entire community affected by the senseless act of violence.”
Garcia, the English instructor, is still trying to absorb what happened. “Everybody’s just the nicest people you’ve ever met,” he says. “It’s just a surprise to see this happen.”
— With reporting by Christine Mai-Duc / Oakland
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