MERCED, Calif. (AP) - A male college student burst into a morning class at a California university with a hunting knife Wednesday and may have killed his intended victim if not for the heroic intervention of a construction worker who ran into the room to break up the attack.
The construction worker and three others were injured, but all are expected to survive. The alleged assailant, described as a college student in his 20s, was shot and killed by campus police as he fled the scene at the University of California, Merced.
Two of the injured had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals, and the other two were treated on campus. Authorities didn't release the name of the assailant or his victims.
The incident began when the assailant used a knife to stabbed a male student in a second-floor room around the start of an 8 a.m. class, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said.
A construction worker outside rushed into to check on the commotion, distracted the attacker and was also stabbed. Warnke credited the worker with saving the life of one of the victims.
"I think he prevented this first student from dying," Warnke said during an afternoon news conference. "He didn't go in knowing that there was a stabbing taking place. He went in thinking there was a fight."
The Merced Sun Star identified the construction worker as Byron Price, 31. Price's father said he was treated and released from the hospital. Neither Price returned calls for comment to The Associated Press.
Warnke said the suspect fled the room after attacking the construction worker and ran down two flights of stairs, slashing a male student on the stairwell. Once outside, the assailant stabbed a female school employee sitting on a bench multiple times.
He was shot and killed by pursuing campus police on a nearby foot bridge.
Authorities are investigating a motive. Warnke said the knife contained a blade that was eight to 10 inches long.
All the victims were conscious when paramedics reached them, Assistant Vice Chancellor Patti Waid said.
KTVU spoke with one mother who said her son was in the classroom when the violence started.
"He said the guy came in the classroom and started stabbing, And they ran towards the other door and he came to another door to lock them in," said parent Sophia Conklin.
A student who saw the scene outside described what the suspect looked like.
"He was wearing dark sunglasses, dark black beanie. I think he was wearing a black scarf but I couldn't see. Black backpack, dark green jacket, dark jeans," said witness Linda Hernandez. "He was running and gloves as well"
Hernandez also described the shots that took the suspect down.
"The first shot it didn't floor him, but second shot did," Hernandez said. "He just kind of tumbled to the ground. It was really scary. I didn't think they were real shots, but they were."
The campus remained on precautionary lockdown and will continue to be closed through Thursday,
The Chancellor says the campus is expected to resume normal operations on Friday.
University senior Phil Coba, a student government representative, said numerous students told him that the stabbings started inside a classroom and continued outside before campus police shot and killed the attacker.
Lensy Maravilla, 19, a first-year student, said she was in a biology class on the second floor of the same building, when a female student ran in.
Maravilla said the student "was crying hysterically and came in and said that she had seen somebody get stabbed, or slashed, in the throat and she ran."
Maravilla did not have other details, but she said that shortly afterward someone came in the class and said classes were canceled.
Student Itzel Franco, 18, said half of her dorm remains evacuated because it is close to the site of where the assailant was shot. She said it happened in an area known as the "passing bridge."
Student Alex Lopez was heading to class when he realized something was wrong on campus. "I was listening to a podcast, and there was a break in talking, and I just hear a gunshot," he said.
He said police and first responders flooded the scene.
"You see this stuff all over the news and stuff, and you see it happen to all these other schools," but you don't expect it to happen at your school, said Lopez, 21.
The university about 120 miles south of Sacramento in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley was locked down for about an hour and a half after the stabbings. The lockdown was lifted, but classes were canceled and entrances to the campus were blocked off.
Campus officials said the university, which has about 6,000 students, also would be closed Thursday and urged the community to seek counseling services that were available.
The campus in the city of Merced opened a decade ago and is the newest one in the University of California system.
It was erected in the state's farm belt in response to the burgeoning enrollment in the nine other University of California campuses. Regents also felt the mainly agricultural region was unrepresented by higher education.
A candlelight vigil that was initially planned for Wednesday night was canceled. The student body is working on organizing a service for Friday when school resumes.