The attacker who injured 11 people after driving his car into a crowd of Ohio State University students Monday morning complained about the atmosphere for Muslims on campus just three months ago, raising questions about whether ideology played a role in the attack.
Police have not identified a motive for the attack, which occurred at 9:52 a.m. outside Watts Hall, where students were milling about after a fire alarm.
The attacker was identified as 20-year-old OSU student Abdul Razak Ali Artan. Columbus police Chief Kim Jacobs said late Monday afternoon that police were waiting on a search warrant for Artan’s home and were trying to talk to people who knew him.
Police believe he acted alone. After driving his car onto a curb and into the crowd, Artan got out and began swinging a butcher knife. Some of the injured received stab wounds before a campus police officer shot and killed Artan, who was in his first semester at OSU.
Andrew Thomas, chief medical officer at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, said the 11 injuries were a mix of stab wounds and injuries from being hit by the car. None were life-threatening, he said.
Artan was featured in OSU’s The Lantern student newspaper in late August. In a “Humans of Ohio State” feature, he was described as a third-year student in logistics management who had just transferred from Columbus State. He was quoted as saying he was nervous about saying his Muslim prayers in public, and blamed the media for creating a certain image of Muslims.
OSU President Michael Drake praised the quick response of law enforcement and urged people to let the investigation move forward without jumping to conclusions.
“We don’t know anything that would link this to any community. We certainly don’t have any evidence that would say that’s the case,” Drake said. “What we want to do is really unify together, support each other, do our best to support those who were injured in their recovery, and then allow the investigation to take place, and not jump to conclusions that could in fact create a bad situation where one doesn’t exist.”
Drake and others thanked campus police officer Alan Horujko, 28, who fired the shots that killed Artan. OSU Police Chief Craig Stone said Horujko, who has been with OSU police for almost two years, was already outside Watts Hall, where the incident occurred, because of the fire alarm. Stone said the attack “happened right before his eyes.”
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther thanked Horujko and others in law enforcement for their work, saying, “It’s never been a more dangerous, complicated, challenging time to be a police officer.”
“Today is one of those days you’re grateful for good training and great people across the board,” Ginther said. “President Drake and I had the opportunity to meet with the outstanding young law enforcement officer this afternoon. … We had a dynamic, well-trained professional today save the lives of many of our residents and students.”
How it happened
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., students in Watts Hall on the north side of campus were evacuated when the fire alarm was sounded in response to a report of a gas leak in the building. The fire alarm is believed to be unrelated to the attack, OSU’s police chief said.
“The whole class was like, ‘is this a drill?’ And someone came in and said ‘this is real, we have to evacuate,’ ” said Jared Crandall, an OSU junior materials science major who recently transferred from the University of Dayton. “We were just standing outside talking amongst ourselves. … Then I heard the car. It turned the corner really fast and jumped on the curb and that was all I heard.”
The car was a silver Honda sedan that turned west off of College Road onto 19th Avenue, a street that narrows as it runs between multi-story science and engineering buildings. Stone said police have reviewed camera video that proves Artan was in the car by himself.
Crandall said at first he wasn’t sure why the car went onto the sidewalk, adding that Artan had to go around a public safety vehicle to get there.
“He comes onto the curb and he’s headed toward all of us. He’s almost directly in the line of path to me and some friends. Luckily we took a couple steps to the side, and he happened to swerve a bit the other way, so we were fine,” Crandall said.
“Someone behind me got hit a little bit and hurt her ankle but she’s OK. He kept going and … I saw him after he was out of the car. I turned and saw what was happening. I saw this guy with this knife and he was just swinging it around.”
Both Crandall and Monica Moll, OSU’s director of public safety, said the incident happened in a flash.
“At 9:52, the officer involved called (to the dispatch center) that a car had hit about seven-to-eight pedestrians,” Moll said. “Just a few seconds later, also at 9:52, the officer made a call that indicated officer in trouble, that there was a man with a knife.
“At 9:53 that same officer called out that there were shots fired and that he had one person down. That’s when the officer … used deadly force to stop the threat.”
According to photos from The Lantern, Artan died in the grassy area between the Koffolt Laboratories building and the Watts Hall complex.
Police officials said Artan acted alone, and the threat was over in two minutes. But police, students and the city as a whole didn’t know that at the time. The first alert from university officials went out at 9:55 a.m., saying, “Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall. 19th and College.”
The campus was on lockdown for about 90 minutes, as authorities checked for a possible second attacker. People who were outdoors ran, and students and staff indoors followed instructions to shelter in place, locking themselves in classrooms and offices. Some students tweeted pictures of the mountain of chairs they had used to barricade their doors.
Law enforcement officials surrounded and searched the Lane Avenue parking garage, at one point handcuffing two people. But police eventually established that there was no second attacker, and said once they identified the pair from the garage, they were released.
Drake, Ginther, Gov. John Kasich and others praised first responders and students for following their training in response to the crisis.
Thomas, the OSU medical director, said six of the injured people treated at hospitals were hit by Artan’s car, four suffered stab or laceration wounds from the knife, and one suffered other injuries. Two were already out of surgery by early afternoon, and one who suffered a skull fracture was “awake and talking.” The injured included seven students, two faculty/staff, and two others whose affiliation was not disclosed.
Drake cancelled classes for the rest of the day, but the university will resume its normal schedule on Tuesday.
“We live in an unstable world, unfortunately, and we have to continue to do our best to protect ourselves,” he said.
Tension over terror
Artan reportedly was a Somali refugee who came to the United States in 2014 as a legal, permanent resident. That led some to tie the incident to a February machete attack at a Columbus restaurant, where a Somali man attacked people as they sat down to dinner. Police also shot and killed that man, Mohamed Barry, after a chase.
Although it’s not clear if the OSU incident is linked to terrorism, terrorist groups have encouraged supporters to carry out lone wolf attacks similar to this one. This week, The New York Times also reported that the Obama administration has expanded the war against Al Qaeda to include the Shabab, an Islamist militant group in Somalia.
Columbus has the second-largest Somali population in the United States.
Some media outlets reported that Artan made angry social media posts about American treatment of Muslim-majority nations. This newspaper was unable to confirm that those posts were Artan’s.
Columbus police said federal officials were working with local law enforcement in case there was a terrorism angle to Monday’s attack.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement Monday night, denouncing the attack and urging all Americans to stand together.
“We as yet know nothing about the motivation of the attacker, but we do know of his Somali heritage, and that will be enough for some people to falsely link this tragic incident to the faith of Islam and to the Somali and Muslim communities,” the statement read.
“We must not let the act of one individual, no matter what his motive or background, to further divide our community or our nation.”
Kasich said the incident was a lesson for campuses across America, from colleges to K-12 schools, to take their safety training exercises seriously. He said “we may never find out why this person snapped,” but reflected on how much the attack affected the OSU community.
“This is just an incredible, magnificent place. So when I heard that this morning, I thought about the stab wounds and the gunfire, it frankly took a piece out of everybody here at our beautiful Ohio State University that this could have happened here,” Kasich said.
“But we are a strong, tough, resilient community. … Ohio State will be stronger having come through this.”
Staff Writer Max Filby contributed to this report.