LAPD reviews videotapes in USC grad student slayings
Los Angeles police detectives are reviewing video surveillance tapes hoping to find clues to the shooting deaths of two USC graduate students early Wednesday.
Some witnesses heard the gunshots, but because it was raining at the time few people were on the street, said LAPD Det. Sal LaBarbera.
Witnesses confirmed seeing a man running away at the time, LaBarbera added. Detectives hope the video from stationary security cameras placed in the area by the LAPD might offer more clues, but it's unclear if it shows the suspect. The shooting took place near the corner of Raymond Avenue and Adams Boulevard around 1 a.m.
"We want anyone who passed by that area [at the time of the shooting] to contact us," he said. "We have several leads we are working."
The victims were identified as Ming Qu and Ying Wu, two graduate students from China studying electrical engineering at USC.
After a night at the library, Qu drove Wu to the house where she was renting a room less than a mile from campus. He double-parked in front of the home early Wednesday morning as they continued talking.
A gunman approach Qu's BMW and opened fire, killing both students in an attack that shocked the USC community and rekindled long-held concerns about safety around the university.
Qu attempted to run for help after he was shot in the head and was found collapsed on a nearby porch, police said. Wu was found slumped over in the passenger seat of the car, shot in the chest.
The students, both 23, were close friends who spent evenings chatting on the front porch of the house where Wu lived, according to police sources who requested anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. Because it was raining Wednesday, police believe the pair decided to stay in the car, which friends said was a 2003 model that Qu bought for about $10,000.
Police suspect a lone assailant of carrying out the killings, but LAPD Capt. Andrew Smith said investigators had little to go on and are examining all motives, including that the gunman was trying to rob the pair.
Offering cheaper rents and close proximity to campus, the area where the killings took place has seen a marked increase in the number of students renting apartments in recent years. Authorities said the influx has centered around neighborhoods to the west and north of USC, particularly in the area bounded by Exposition and Adams boulevards and Vermont and Normandie avenues.
"There are so many students that have integrated into the neighborhood that it's not unusual to see students riding bikes or walking to and from school, at all times of day and night," LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon said.
Even with the double-slaying, LAPD officials said violent crime and homicides were down 20% this year through the first week of April compared with the same period last year. Before Wednesday's shooting, there had been only four homicides in the LAPD's Southwest Division since Jan. 1 — far lower than in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when there were more than 100 homicides annually in the division.
The Adams-Normandie corridor where the shooting occurred is a mix of USC students and working-class residents living alongside each other in large wood-framed houses and apartment complexes. Locals said the neighborhood once experienced a lot of gang activity, which had slowed over the last decade as students moved in.
"In the last 10 years, we've definitely seen the neighborhood get better and quieter," said Julie Burleigh, who for a decade has lived on the block where the shooting took place.
In a statement released hours after the killings, the university reassured students and employees that it was making strides to improve safety around the campus.
"Our community is saddened and outraged by this callous and meaningless act," the statement said. "Tragedies such as this morning's remind us that we all need to be continuously vigilant about safety and security."
Anyone with information is urged to call the LAPD at (213) 485-2417. Anonymous callers can contact Crimestoppers at (800) 222-8477.
-- Andrew Blankstein, Sam Quinones, Ashley Powers and Rosanna Xia
Photo: Police tape restricts access to Wednesday's crime scene. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times