Md. cannibalism case raises questions about troubled students
Did incidents portend trouble for Morgan State student?
Alexander Kinyua is pictured in a photo he uploaded to blogtalkradio.com with his face in camouflage paint. (June 1, 2012)
But the January outburst wouldn't be the only troubling incident involving Kinyua. He was thrown out of the ROTC program that same month after an incident that involved the destruction of property, and he was known to some on campus for carrying a machete and wearing tribal-inspired facepaint.
Those events earlier this year seem portentous now that Kinyua has been charged in back-to-back incidents of violence. He's accused of assaulting another student May 19 and of murdering 37-year-old Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie six days later. Police say Kinyua chopped Agyei-Kodie to pieces and gorged on the man's heart and brain.
Now some are questioning whether there were signs the campus community missed, anything that could have foretold — and prevented — the violence. Recalling the January forum, Stewart, a Morgan senior, says, "An MSU official should have approached him afterward, and should have asked him what he was talking about."
Following tragedies like the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 or the beating death of a University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love in 2010, campuses across the country — including Morgan — have developed intervention programs and threat assessment teams. They are designed to, among other things, spot the needle-in-a-haystack student who could be a danger to himself or others.
It's unclear if university officials questioned Kinyua's behavior before the May episodes. A Morgan spokesman said Kinyua was not flagged as a threat based on the January outburst. But even if he was being monitored, there may have been little the college could do, some campus mental health and security experts said.
"We don't have a crystal ball, so we can't predict future behavior very well. We can only look at the threat that current behavior might indicate," said Mary-Jeanne Raleigh, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling services at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Other Maryland campuses have handled similar issues in recent years — and the responses have varied widely.
In 2010, for example, the Community College of Baltimore County suspended an Army veteran after he wrote a paper for English class describing graphic fantasies about killing. Though the student hadn't threatened anyone or faced any disciplinary problems, school spokesman Hope Davis said, "we have to be really cautious in this post-Virginia-Tech world."
Earlier this year, authorities at the University of Maryland, College Park were called to the dorm room of a student who was "shouting and acting out." They determined that he was "very stressed out" but not a threat to himself or others. No one took further action until a week later, when the student was arrested after posting specific threats of a campus shooting in Internet chat rooms.
Kinyua, the son of a Morgan physics lecturer, was considered a student in good academic standing. Faculty and students said he took his work seriously, and though he came across as slightly odd, he apparently had not sparked serious concerns.
That changed last month, when he was arrested and charged with assault for allegedly fracturing the skull and partially blinding a classmate with a baseball bat.
The May 19 incident may have been the first indicator the school had of Kinyua's potential for physical violence, and administrators took swift action, barring Kinyua from campus. The university also moved to expel him, officials have said.
Just days later, Agyei-Kodie was reported missing. His body was found in pieces last week in two separate locations, and police say Kinyua has confessed to the murder.
Raleigh said it appears that Kinyua may have had "a psychotic break or some very significant psychotic episode" that set in quickly this year.
"From where I'm sitting, it looks like Morgan State did exactly what they could," she said. "I know people would like to find blame, they would like to think someone would have been able to stop him, but it's so beyond the scope of normal behavior or what's considered appropriate."
Still, it's difficult to gauge Morgan's response, with little public information available. It's unknown whether anyone at the college knew of both the ROTC incident and Kinyua's outburst at the hazing forum, and connected the events as troubling. Even if someone was aware of both incidents or of other disturbing behavior spotted by classmates, it's not clear whether Kinyua should have been flagged as a potential threat.
Morgan spokesman Clinton Coleman said a single verbal outburst at a campus forum would not necessarily raise concerns.
"[I]f you've ever been at these things, people get up and say some wacky things, way off-the-wall stuff," Coleman said. "It's not that unusual, and you just ask yourself, 'Are they serious?'"