By Christopher Weber
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anson Cheung says the shooting deaths of two international graduate students near the University of Southern California made headlines back home in Hong Kong, unnerving his parents.
“When I talk to them now, they remind me to be careful, and I know they’re thinking about the shooting,” said Cheung, a 20-year-old business major, adding that he’s never felt unsafe on or around campus.
A day after a pair of arrests were announced in the April killings of two students from China, those on campus for summer programs said that they’re relieved the crime was solved, but it hasn’t changed their day-to-day behavior.
“If you live around here, you just have to be aware of your surroundings,” said 19-year-old Eduardo Millinedo-Pinon, who grew up in Los Angeles and went to high school just a few blocks from USC. “I knew it as a kid, too. The neighborhood can be dangerous. But I’ve seen it get much better over the years, much safer.”
A week after graduation, the usually-bustling campus was relatively calm Saturday, with some students arriving for summer sessions and others packing up for break.
Millinedo-Pinon, sitting on a bench in a sun-drenched campus courtyard, said students know to avoid certain areas, to walk in groups after dark, and to keep valuables hidden. Others said students are told on day one to exercise caution in the neighborhoods around the school, located a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles, in an area that has faced high crime and gang activity.
On April 11, graduate students Ming Qu, of Jilin, and Ying Wu, of Hunan, were shot while sitting in a BMW about a mile away from the school. Both victims were 23 years old.
Javier Bolden, 19, and Bryan Barnes, 20, were arrested Friday on suspicion of killing the students during an apparent robbery attempt, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said.
The victims’ parents filed a lawsuit this week accusing USC of misrepresenting security at the campus, where nearly one-fifth of the 38,000 students are from overseas, including 2,500 from China. The school has more international students than any other U.S. university, USC says.
The motive for the shootings was still under investigation, Beck said, but the “evidence points to a street robbery.”
Ballistics tests on shell casings recovered at the scene show they were fired from the same gun used in two other shootings in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing law enforcement sources.
One of the suspects took a cellphone from one of the victims, and detectives were able to locate him by tracking signals sent by the device, the Times said.
Authorities also identified a signal from a second cellphone in proximity to the victim’s phone. The second phone was identified as belonging to the suspect.
Beck said neither suspect had a long criminal history or is a documented gang member, though police suspect they may have a gang affiliation.
Barnes was arrested at a home about five miles from campus Friday afternoon, and Bolden was arrested a few hours later in Palmdale, about 60 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, police said. Both men were being held without bail and are set to be arraigned Tuesday.
In their lawsuit, the victims’ parents alleged that the school made false claims about safety in the frequently asked questions section of its online application.
The 15-page lawsuit accuses USC of hiding behind the word “urban” and not saying that the school is in a high-crime residential area.
It also notes that Chinese students would interpret urban to mean USC is in a safe area.
“The ‘urban’ representation misled Chinese students, including Ming Qu, into believing the area is safe, since in China, the more urban the area, the safer the area,” the lawsuit states.
USC lawyer Debra Wong Yang said the university was deeply saddened by the deaths, but found the lawsuit to be baseless.
Zhou Rong, a Beijing-based education consultant who advises Chinese students wishing to study overseas, said the word “urban” to people in China has no connotation of safety.
“I think it only means the location and has nothing to do with safety and crime,” said Zhou, who works for New Oriental Vision Overseas Consulting.
The school and city police announced new security measures after the slayings and promised more video cameras, escorts, and patrols.
The additional security will include sending over 30 more officers to the department division that handles the USC area, and the university will pay for four additional officers to patrol the student residential neighborhoods, Beck said.
Students mostly shrugged at the news of a larger police presence.
Christopher Avilez, 20, arrived Saturday at USC from Orange County to interview for a summer program. He’s not concerned for his safety.
“It’s the big city, you know, so you have to be careful,” Avilez said. “But that’s any big city. I’m not worried at all.” (end)
Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer in Los Angeles and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing also contributed to this report.