UCLA Shooting Aftermath as Students Recall Terror: ‘We Had Acid to Throw in Shooter’s Face’

Students recall harrowing experience in the university’s Engineering IV Building

UCLA Shooting Students Describe Terror in the Halls of Engineering Building
Photo: TheWrap

In one stroke around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the struggle to learn vanished and life at UCLA became a matter of survival.

Over 24 hours later, the impact of former grad student Mainak Sarkar’s brutal assault has only just begun to set in for many who were caught in the middle of the two-hour nightmare on campus.

“I was stuck in a lab with seven other students when the lockdown started,” one engineering student told TheWrap on the condition of anonymity. “We had hydrochloric acid there. We were going to throw it in the shooter’s face if he came barging in. It would have burnt his face.”

Another student, who also wished not to be identified, told TheWrap that she’s been having a hard time concentrating since the incident, which claimed the life of of Prof. William S. Klug as well as Sarkar. Sarkar’s victims also include Ashley Hasti, who was found shot dead in Minnesota and believed to be his wife.

For students at Engineering IV when the shooting began, the horror of the situation was immediate. “I was hiding under my desk in my office for a long time,” the second student said. “I could hear someone pleading with the shooter to drop his gun. I spent the entire time planning my escape route should he come into my office.”

Students were alerted of a possible shooting via BruinAlert text message and email Wednesday morning, and authorities have since revealed that the 38-year-old Sarkar shot and killed Klug, 39, and then turned his semiautomatic pistol on himself. Sarkar has been described as a former doctoral student who was angry with Prof. Klug over stolen computer code.

The university has now taken steps to address the survivors’ needs in the wake of the horrific incident. In an email to students obtained by TheWrap, UCLA’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh urged people to seek counseling in one of the university’s four “designated healing spaces.”

The engineering school’s dean, Jayathi Murthy, announced in another email that final exams and the commencement ceremony “will proceed as regularly scheduled.” But she also said that in light of the events, “those who seek to make alternative arrangements for final final exams should work with their professors to discuss potential alternatives.”

The email also notes that the university is now offering students crisis counseling “24/7 and walk in services.”

The few students who showed up Thursday said they were seriously considering taking the school up on its offer. “I didn’t want to come in today,” one student said. “But I couldn’t stay home either. I barely slept last night. I don’t really want to do anything right now.”

He had just spoken to Klug, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, a few days earlier and was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that his “role model” was gone.

“Here is a guy who did everything by the book,” he said. “He was brilliant and nice and calm … just like that his life is over. I feel like, ‘why bother doing anything anymore?’”

“I just can’t get the image of his face out of my head,” another engineering student said. “It’s just so sad.”

Wednesday’s shooting is likely to have long-lasting mental effects on many of the students at UCLA, and not just those who were in the building. As one student told TheWrap, “Even those who weren’t under lockdown are experiencing stress.”

The exact motive for the shooting has not been confirmed, but a blog post reportedly written by Sarkar in March — which has since been deleted — claims that Klug had stolen computer code from him and given it to another student.

The few engineering students on campus on Thursday said they didn’t know Sarkar, who graduated from the program three years ago. But one student said that if Klug did in fact give the code to another student, he had every right to.

“The problem isn’t the professor,” the student said. “We all have to sign papers at the beginning of the program which essentially states that all intellectual property belongs to UCLA. That research was paid for by the university. That’s how research gets advanced. No one can crack the code on their own. It’s how things are done.”