Mouse leads to death threat

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

After a mechanical engineering student reportedly made a death threat against a peer, administrators in the department stepped in and placed both students in counseling.

Kent Udell, chair of the department of mechanical engineering, intervened after he was tipped that a student wanted to fight to the death, he said.

The victim told U Police Department officer Clayton Binks that he had received a death threat from another student on Oct. 31. The suspect told the victim that he wanted to “fight him until one (was) dead,” according to the police report.

Both the victim and the suspect are graduate students in the department. Neither the police department nor Udell released their names, because the case is still under investigation, U Police Sgt. Lynn Rohland said.

Kent Curtis, who is investigating the case, did not return phone calls.

Since the victim reported the threat to police, both students have been part of meetings held by Debra Mascaro, research assistant professor in the department, who could not be reached for comment.

The two students have also attended ongoing sessions in the University Counseling Center, Udell said.

The alleged feud between the two students began during a lab session when the suspect told a group of people that he had seen a mouse in the building. The victim suggested that they should call pest control, which the suspect became angry about, according to the police report.

Udell said there might have been a language barrier between the two students and the suspect might have perceived the suggestion as an insult. The victim is from China, and the suspect is from South Korea, according to the police report.

“It could have been cultural differences,” Udell said. “What could have been something innocent in one culture could have been taken more seriously (in the other).”

After the incident in the lab, the suspect allegedly made the death threat toward the other student and began to follow him around and send him threatening e-mails, which were not released.

Udell told U Police he had suspected the student had anger management issues and that he might be mentally unstable. He asked the suspect to vacate his office and not come back until the situation is resolved.

“On one side, we thought it would blow over, but on the other, there was a possibility that it would turn into something different,” Udell said. “We wanted to take precautions and contacted professionals.”

Although he has dealt with student conflicts in the two years he has served as chair, Udell said this case escalated to a more dangerous level than others, and he wanted to take “action so the threat was no longer there.”

He said tensions between students are constantly present in the department because of the constant pressure in the mechanical engineering field.

“The students in the graduate level are working very hard to finish their degrees?and sometimes that comes with challenges and sacrifices,” Udell said. “The wages for engineering are high. Students come here from other countries to get a degree.”

Udell said most of the undergraduate students in the mechanical engineering department are originally from Utah, but most who come for the graduate program are not.

Udell hopes counseling will help both students understand their cultural differences.

No charges have been pressed in the case.

“This is not a matter that needs to be resolved criminally, but internally or through the student behavior committee,” Rohland said.

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