University of Iowa shooting

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University of Iowa shooting
Location Iowa City, Iowa, U.S.A
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 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa 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 faculty and one student, and seriously wounded another student, before taking his own life.

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 former 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.) 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.[2][3] 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. This prize included a monetary award of $2,500. Gang Lu believed that winning the prize would have made it easier for him to get hired as a professor.[citation needed]

Lu was unable to find work because of the recession. Normally, in this instance, the physics and astronomy department would have given Lu a temporary postdoctoral fellowship, but there was not enough money to support him.[citation needed]

The shooting[edit]

On Friday, November 1, 1991, Gang Lu attended a theoretical space plasma physics research group meeting 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.[3]

Christoph K. Goertz, professor of physics and astronomy,[4] was Lu's dissertation chairperson and one of America's leading space plasma physicists. Robert A. Smith, associate professor of physics and astronomy, was also on Lu's dissertation committee. Linhua Shan (S: 山林华, T: 山林華, P: Shān Línhuá), research investigator in physics and astronomy, was the winner of the Spriestersbach prize. Shan had once been Lu's roommate. Dwight R. Nicholson, chairman of the physics and astronomy department,[5] was one of Lu's dissertation committee members.

After the shootings at Van Allen Hall, Lu walked three blocks to Jessup Hall. Lu requested to see T. Anne Cleary, the associate vice president for academic affairs. She was the grievance officer at the university. Lu had made several complaints to her about not being nominated for the Spriestersbach prize. Cleary was shot in the head and died the following day at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a 23-year-old temporary student employee in the grievance office, was shot for reasons unknown. Rodolfo-Sioson survived but was left paralyzed from the neck down. She died from inflammatory breast cancer in 2008.[6]

University President Hunter Rawlings III was another person on Lu's hit list, but was in Columbus, Ohio at the time 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.

In popular culture[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.[7]

The educational series Discovering Psychology, "Cultural Psychology" (Episode 26, updated edition) discusses Gang Lu (at the 3:50 minute mark) [8]

A documentary about the life of the lone survivor, Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, entitled Miya of the Quiet Strength, was released in 2009.[9][10]


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

Further reading[edit]

  • Chen, Edwin (1995). Deadly Scholarship: The True Story of Lu Gang and Mass Murder in America's Heartland. Birch Lane Press. ISBN 978-1559722414. 

External links[edit]