A graduate engineering student defending his thesis before a faculty committee allegedly opened fire with a handgun Thursday, killing three professors.
The accused gunman was arrested immediately after the shooting on the San Diego State University campus, about 10 miles from the downtown convention center where Bob Dole accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, of east San Diego was arrested by campus police.
Davidson, a tall and balding Army veteran, dropped his handgun and surrendered when approached by the officers, police said.
There were three eyewitnesses, all students. None was wounded, said police Lt. Jim Collins.
Davidson wrote his thesis on shape memory alloy, a metal that can be twisted and will hold its shape until heated, said Howard Brashers, a retired English professor who rented Davidson a room.
Davidson had already co-authored several journal articles, along with his faculty adviser, Chen Liang, and appeared to have a promising future. McDonnell Douglas was funding the men’s research.
“It looked to me like he had a good thing going with Dr. Liang,” Brashers said. “He was building a resume.”
But a college employee who said she knew Davidson suggested he may have been frustrated by not being able to finish his work quickly at the school, where only one engineering student a month is allowed to defend a thesis.
“The problem is that the engineering school is so small and the students are so linear in their thinking that it is difficult for them to understand revision is not failure,” said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Police and university officials refused to release the names of the victims. Police spokesman Bill Robinson said they were university staff members.
Two people who were in the third-floor classroom lab at the time of the shooting rushed into a basement room of the building and called police, said Frederic Cerfvol, who was there visiting his girlfriend.
“We heard gunshots and two people came down and said ‘we were in the classroom when three people got shot down,’ ” said Cerfvol. “The guy was defending his thesis and the jury probably faulted him and the guy shot the jurors. That’s the guess of the two people who came down.”
Albert Nguyen, a mechanical engineering student, said he was in a computer lab on the same floor when he heard shouting and looked outside just as the man was being apprehended.
“I heard the guy saying, ‘Drop the gun,’ The security guy I guess. I took a peek and the second guard said, ‘Get out,”’ said Nguyen, who got out of the way.