(MCT) LOS ANGELES — A Chinese graduate student at the University of Southern California who was discovered dead in his apartment was the victim of an assault a few blocks from campus, the university said Thursday.

The assault occurred while engineering student Xinran Ji was walking near 29th Street and Orchard Avenue in Los Angeles, USC said. Ji’s family in China has been notified of his death.

Los Angeles police believe Ji was attacked with an “unknown blunt object” by at least three suspects while he was walking home around 12:45 a.m. Thursday.

“Following the attack, the victim was able to make his way back to his apartment a short distance away where he was found dead later that morning,” the LAPD said.

The body was discovered by officers around 7 a.m. Thursday at the apartment complex, which sits just north of the campus in the 1200 block of 30th Street.

In a letter posted by USC Senior Vice President Elizabeth Garrett on the university’s website, officials stressed that the death “was an isolated incident and there was and is no apparent threat to the campus community.”

Pete Foster, an officer with the university’s Department of Public Safety, added that “any area around USC is really safe.”

But some students said a history of deadly violence on or near the campus had challenged that assessment.

“It’s shocking, but at the same time you’re almost desensitized because you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? It happened again?’” said Joe Benson, a senior undergraduate student.

He challenged campus police to develop more effective security methods, and to stop “pretending they have it under control.”

“What they’re doing now isn’t working,” he added.

USC poured considerable resources into improving campus safety after a string of shootings put current and prospective students on edge.

In April 2012, two 23-year-old Chinese graduate students in the electrical engineering program were shot to death around 1 a.m. while sitting in a parked BMW just west of campus.

The news raced through American and Chinese-language social networking sites and raised concerns about the university’s global allure. USC routinely enrolls thousands of international students — among the largest number of any college in the country.

The parents of two students, Ying Wu and Ming Qu, later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, saying the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation.

Six months after the graduate students were slain, a gunman opened fire in a crowd outside a Halloween party near the center of USC. Four people were wounded, and the campus was placed on lockdown.

Los Angeles police and USC officials said the shooting stemmed from an argument between two people who were not affiliated with university. Still, school officials reacted by putting multiple new security measures put in place.

The university limited public access to the university in the evening, allowing only students, staff and registered guests on campus between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Department of Public Safety also installed additional security cameras and license plate readers, and dorms introduced fingerprint scanners for entry.

About 1,500 feet of fencing also went up along the school’s 2-mile perimeter, and security guards began checking identification cards of everyone coming inside after 9 p.m.

University officials reported a drop in property crimes in 2013 compared with the year before.

However most of the measures were aimed at securing the environment on campus. Thursday’s assault once again exposed the limits of the university’s efforts outside school grounds.

Multiple students said the victim’s apartment complex was popular among international students because it had a reputation for being safe. The building’s website touts “Keyed entry, gates, and doors throughout the premises.”

At the scene, yellow crime tape prevented passersby from walking onto 30th Street as homicide detectives wandered through one of the multistory tan buildings.

The neighborhood is covered by 24-hour video surveillance, which detectives from LAPD’s Criminal Gang Homicide Division are reviewing. USC was also assisting with the investigation.


©2014 Los Angeles Times

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