University of Iowa shooting

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University of Iowa shooting
Location Iowa City, Iowa, United States
Date Friday, November 1, 1991 (CST)
Attack type
School shooting, murder-suicide
Weapons Taurus .38-caliber revolver
Deaths 6 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Gang Lu

The University of Iowa shooting took place in Iowa City, Iowa, United States on November 1, 1991. The gunman was Gang Lu, a 28-year-old former graduate student at the University. He killed four members of the university's faculty and a student; he left another student seriously injured, before committing suicide.

Perpetrator and motives[edit]

Gang Lu

The perpetrator of the shooting was 28-year-old Gang Lu (born 1962) (Chinese: 卢刚; pinyin: Lú Gāng),[1] a recent conferred graduate student at the University of Iowa. Lu was a physics and astronomy student who had received his doctoral degree from the university in May 1991. (His dissertation was titled Study of the "Critical Ionization Velocity" Effect by Particle-in-Cell Simulation.)[2] He was still living in Iowa City after he had graduated.

As a graduate student Gang Lu was primarily a loner who was perceived by at least one other graduate student to have a psychological problem if challenged and was reported to have had abusive tantrums.[3][4] In the months prior to the shooting, Lu wrote five letters explaining the reasons for his planned actions. According to university officials, four of the letters were in English and were intended to be mailed to news organizations. One letter was written in Chinese. The letters have never been released to the public.

Lu was infuriated because his dissertation did not receive the prestigious D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize, which included a monetary award of $2,500. In the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, many Chinese students were eager to stay in the United States. Lu believed that winning the prize would have made it easier for him to get a job in the United States. Normally Lu would have gotten a postdoctoral researcher position, but there was not enough money to support him.[5]

The shooting[edit]

On Friday, November 1, 1991, Gang Lu attended a meeting for the theoretical space plasma physics research group in a conference room on the third floor of Van Allen Hall. A few minutes after the meeting began, Lu shot three attendees of the meeting with a .38-caliber revolver, then proceeded to the second floor to shoot the chairman of the department in his office.[4] Those who were shot in Van Allen Hall were:

  • Christoph K. Goertz, professor of physics and astronomy,[6] Lu's dissertation chairperson and one of America's leading theoretical space plasma physicists
  • Robert A. Smith, associate professor of physics and astronomy, also on Lu's dissertation committee
  • Linhua Shan (S: 山林华, T: 山林華, P: Shān Línhuá), a post-doctoral research investigator and the winner of the Spriestersbach prize; Shan had once been Lu's roommate
  • Dwight R. Nicholson, chairman of the physics and astronomy department,[7] and one of Lu's dissertation committee members

After the shootings at Van Allen Hall, Lu walked three blocks to Jessup Hall where he shot T. Anne Cleary, an associate vice president for Academic Affairs who was the grievance officer at the university, in her office. Lu had filed several grievances about not being nominated for the Spriestersbach prize. Cleary was shot in the head and died the following day at the University of Iowa hospital. Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a 23-year-old student temporary employee in the Office of Academic Affairs, was shot for unknown reasons. Rodolfo-Sioson survived but was left paralyzed from the neck down. She died from inflammatory breast cancer in 2008.[8]

University President Hunter Rawlings III was another person on Lu's hit list but was in Columbus, Ohio, for the Iowa/Ohio State football game. Gang Lu was found in room 203 of Jessup Hall with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He died shortly after police arrived.

Media adaptions[edit]

Writer Jo Ann Beard wrote an acclaimed personal essay based in part on the killings. Her essay, entitled "The Fourth State of Matter", was originally published in The New Yorker. It appeared in the 1997 edition of Best American Essays. The essay was later included in her collection of personal essays, The Boys of My Youth. Beard worked as an editor for a physics journal at the university and was a colleague of the victims. She had been close friends with Goertz.

Loosely based on Gang Lu's story, Chinese director Chen Shi-zheng made a feature film, Dark Matter, starring Liu Ye and Meryl Streep. However, the story in Dark Matter has substantial differences in plot and character motivation. The film won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007.[9]

The educational series Discovering Psychology, "Cultural Psychology" (Episode 26, updated edition) discusses Gang Lu (at the 3:50 minute mark) [10]

A documentary about the life of the lone survivor, Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, entitled Miya of the Quiet Strength, was released in 2009.[11][12]


  1. ^ Mann, Jim (June 7, 1992). "The Physics of Revenge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 2, 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Marriott, Michel (November 4, 1991). "Iowa Gunman Was Torn by Academic Challenge". New York Times. 
  4. ^ a b "A Deep Resentment Boils Over". Chicago Tribune. November 3, 1991. 
  5. ^ Kilen, Mike (November 1, 2016). "Nov. 1, 1991: The day a university shooting rampage shocked Iowa". Des Moines Register. 
  6. ^ Gurnett, Don; Joyce, Glenn (October 1992). "Obituary: Christoph K. Goertz". Physics Today. 45 (10): 136–137. doi:10.1063/1.2809851. 
  7. ^ Dubois, Donald; Knorr, George; Payne, Gerald (October 1992). "Obituary: Dwight Nicholson". Physics Today. 45 (10): 136. doi:10.1063/1.2809850. 
  8. ^ Shpiner, Ruthanne. "Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, 1968–2008", The Berkeley Daily Planet, 10 December 2008. Retrieved on 26 August 2012.
  9. ^ Overbye, "A Tale of Power and Intrigue in the Lab, Based on Real Life."
  10. ^ "Discovering Psychology -- Program 26: Cultural Psychology". Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Miya of the Quiet Strength". Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  12. ^ Miya of the Quiet Strength on IMDb

Further reading[edit]