OAKLAND, Calif. – The nursing director at a California college where seven people were killed said Wednesday she believes the gunman was targeting her over a financial dispute, but she was teaching elsewhere when he opened fire on others at the campus.
“In talking to several of the students and faculty who were there, I think he was looking for me. I have that weight on my shoulders and I don’t know what to do with it,” Ellen Cervellon, director of the nursing program at Oikos University, told The Associated Press, her voice quavering.
“Every single one of those students were going to be an excellent, excellent nurse. They’re in my heart, and they always will be,” she said.
A portrait of suspect One Goh, 43, as an angry, unstable man at school emerged Wednesday as he made his first appearance in court after being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, plus a special circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders that could make him eligible for the death penalty.
Shackled and showing little emotion, Goh said nothing during the brief appearance other than a soft “yes” when the judge asked whether he understood the charges. He did not enter a plea.
Goh dropped out of the nursing program at the tiny private school around November but returned numerous times to ask Cervellon for a full tuition refund.
Goh got angry when she told him the school could not refund all his money because he had been enrolled for nearly half of the program, she said.
Police have said Goh was seeking a female administrator when he went to the campus Monday. When he was told she wasn’t there, they said, he began shooting in classrooms, killing six students and a receptionist and wounding three others.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan previously said Goh was angry after being expelled from the school, but Cervellon said he was never expelled and decided to leave on his own.
“He was never forced out, he showed no behavioral problems, and he was never asked to leave the program,” she said. “He decided on his own to leave the program.”
Cervellon said police have not spoken with her.
Jordan confirmed Cervellon was the gunman’s intended target. He said investigators plan to interview her soon, and that many details were still unclear.
“We were told by witnesses that he was kicked out, but there could be some facts that he wasn’t,” Jordan said. “I do know that he was trying to get his down payment or tuition reimbursed.”
During previous meetings with Cervellon, Goh also said he felt his classmates were picking on him at the school, which was founded to help Korean immigrants adjust to life in America and launch new careers, she said. Goh is a native of South Korea who became a U.S. citizen. Jordan has said Goh also was upset because other students had teased him about his poor English skills.
However, Cervellon and nursing professor Romie John Delariman said they never heard about or witnessed Goh being ridiculed for problems with English. Delariman said Goh was a good student who didn’t seem to struggle with his second language.
“He was a full-time student and was really motivated. If I taught something he would be the first person in line to do it,” Delariman said.
Still, Goh appeared to be the aggressor in exchanges with others at the school, according to Efanye Chibuko, whose wife Doris Chibuko was among those killed in Monday’s attack.
Chibuko said his wife, a native of Nigeria who was elected president of her nursing class, felt Goh was unstable.
“My wife was afraid of him,” he told the AP. “She was afraid he would do something like he did. She knew the other victims, and they talked about it. They were afraid that he was going to come back and do what he did.”
Chibuko said he’s angry with school officials for not doing more to protect the students.
“They were all living in fear. My wife told me the guy had been violent toward the school staff and had kicked the walls and stuff like that,” he said. “So they knew. They should have had security in place.”
Delariman said he noticed that Goh had problems, in particular, dealing with women in his predominantly female nursing classes.
“He can’t stand women,” Delariman said. “He said he never used to work with women, or deal with women in a work setting or a school setting.”
In a police affidavit, Officer Robert Trevino said Goh acknowledged going to Oikos on Monday with a .45-caliber handgun and four magazines of ammunition.
“He admitted to kidnapping a woman and forcing her from her office into a classroom at gunpoint,” Trevino said in the statement. “He admitted to shooting and killing several people inside the classroom, before taking one of the victim’s car keys and fleeing the scene in the victim’s car.”
About an hour after the shooting spree, police arrested Goh at a supermarket a few miles from campus.
Online records in two Virginia localities where he lived show that, while Goh was there, he racked up tens of thousands of dollars in liens and judgments, including a $10,377 debt to SunTrust Bank in 2006.
It’s unclear how Goh earned a living before he became a nursing student at the school of about 100 students. His instructors and a former employer said he previously worked in construction.
Several hundred friends, family and community members gathered for a multicultural prayer vigil Tuesday night to mourn the victims of the nation’s deadliest campus shooting since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
“Only God knows the meaning of the suffering we endure,” Dr. Woo Nam Soo, the university’s vice president, said in Korean during the church service. “In this unbearable tragedy and suffering, only God can create something good out of it.”