This is one that I remember pretty well…
In May of 1991, Gang Lu received his Ph. D. from the University of Iowa. On November 1, 1991, this young man was dead, along with five others. Gang Lu, who studied physics and astronomy, was a pretty smart guy, but he was apparently pretty angry as well.
When Mr. Lu was awarded his doctorate, it did not come with special recognition. The D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize was much coveted by Lu and, while the monetary prize it offered was modest, he believed it would smooth the path to a professor’s position at the University. Instead, the prize went to Linhua Shan, at one time Lu’s college roommate, and Lu was not offered a job at Iowa, mostly due to the economics of the day.
His frustration and rage at his supposed rejection grew until it exploded. On this morning in 1991, Gang Lu attended a physics department meeting and, shortly after it began, Lu took out a gun and shot four people dead. Three of them were members of his dissertation committee (the ones that evaluated his doctoral thesis). The fourth was Linhau Shan, the winner of the prize. He left the building, walked to another, and killed Anne Cleary, an academic affairs officer. Gang Lu had talked with her on numerous occasions about his failure to win an award for his work. She died the next day. He also shot a temp student in the office for good measure (who lived, but was left paralyzed), then shot himself.
I was in my final semester at Iowa State University, working (kind of) feverishly to finish my degree in Computer Science, and I was a member of the Computer Science Club. We happened to be meeting that afternoon and I still can remember sitting with them and discussing the incident, trying to grasp what would make someone act in such a heinous manner. As a club, we sent a card of condolence to Iowa City, and I seem to recall that we were sorry for the tragedy.
But looking back, it wasn’t a “tragedy” at all. Yes, it was terribly sad, and a bunch of families were forever changed. But Gang Lu’s actions were despicable…a horrific crime committed solely out of selfishness, greed, and envy. The dissertation committee had to make a choice, and it didn’t go one man’s way. So rather than accept the decision, that one man let his fury control his life…and his death…and the unwarranted deaths of others.
I still shake my head over this, 20-some years later.