San Diego State University shooting

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San Diego State University shooting
LocationSan Diego, California, United States
DateAugust 15, 1996
Attack type
School shooting
Weapons9mm handgun
PerpetratorFrederick Martin Davidson
MotiveParanoid delusion of conspiracies

The San Diego State University shooting was a school shooting that occurred at the San Diego State University (SDSU) engineering building on August 15, 1996, in San Diego, California.[1][2] Three professors were killed by master's degree student Frederick Martin Davidson.[3] Three months later, a copycat threat flier was sent, with threats against professors and racial insults.[4]


Davidson, the three faculty members, and three other engineering students assembled in the classroom shortly before 2:00 p.m. The three students were there to support Davidson, and to witness a Master's thesis defense. Liang stood, formally introduced Davidson, stated the purpose of the meeting, and sat back down.[5][6] Davidson then handed Liang a printout of an e-mail, from a prospective employer who was interested in hiring Davidson, that stated that his future employment with the company hinged on a successful Master's thesis defense.[7] Without time for comment from Liang, and without saying anything himself, Davidson turned to the first aid box on the wall, removed a 9mm handgun, and immediately started firing. He hit Liang first, killing him while he was still seated at the faculty table. Lowrey and Lyrintzis were also hit. However, Lowrey tried to escape out the only main access door to the room. There were other doors in the room, but only one door led out to the hallway, and other parts of the third floor of the Engineering building.

Davidson was between the main door and the faculty table, and shot Lowrey several times; he died on the floor in the main doorway. Lyrintzis fled from the main door and Davidson, into an adjoining classroom, and hid under a table. After killing Lowrey, Davidson reloaded another magazine into the handgun, and pursued Lyrintzis into the other room. There, he shot and killed Lyrintzis while the latter was still under the desk.[7] Overall, Davidson fired 23 rounds, with 16 rounds hitting the professors.[7]

The three students attending the thesis defense were not shot, and escaped without injury. One of the students made it out through the main doorway, and notified the third-floor students and faculty to evacuate.[5] Davidson later commented that he was not angry at the students, and had no intention of killing them.[7]

After the shooting, Davidson himself called 9-1-1.[8] Police arrived to find Davidson in the third-floor hallway still holding the handgun. He was reportedly sobbing and begging for police to kill him.[8] He soon surrendered to police without further incident. Davidson had intended to kill himself after the shootings, but could not due to "pure cowardice". Davidson had left a murder-suicide note in the hallway for the police to find, detailing the location of evidence and computer files in his house.[7]


  • Assistant Professor Chen Liang, 32
  • Associate Professor O. Preston Lowrey III, 44
  • Associate Professor Constantinos Lyrintzis, 36

Perpetrator and motives[edit]

Frederick Martin Davidson (born 1960), aged 36 at the time of the shooting, was a mechanical engineering graduate student at SDSU. On the day of the shooting, he was to defend his master's thesis in front of his victims. Victim Chen Liang was his graduate adviser.[5] San Diego Police investigations after the shooting determined that Davidson made advance plans for the shooting by slipping into the room where he was to defend his thesis at 10:00 a.m., and hiding the handgun and five extra magazines of ammunition in a first aid kit. Each magazine contained 15 rounds of ammunition.[6]

Davidson believed that the three professors and in fact the entire engineering department were involved in a conspiracy against him.[9] Davidson's thesis had been rejected once already, and he may have believed that the faculty would reject his thesis again. Davidson also mentioned to his landlord of two years, Charles Brashear, that he was resentful towards Liang because Liang gave him little credit for working long hours in the laboratory,[6] and "busy work" that had nothing to do with his thesis.[7] Davidson's lack of employment was also a motive, as he felt Constantinos Lyrintzis was preventing him from finding work. In addition, O. Preston Lowrey had seen Davidson with old notes that a student should not have, which he considered cheating.[7]


On July 19, 1997, Davidson was convicted under a plea bargain which spared him from the death penalty. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.[10]

"L3 Memorial Park", dedicated on August 25, 2003, is located on the San Diego State University campus, near the engineering building, as a memorial to the slain professors.[11] Also, the "Preston Lowrey III memorial scholarship fund" was established at the university shortly after the shooting.[12]


  1. ^ "Murder in America", (2001) Ronald M. Holmes, Stephen T. Holmes. Page 155.
  2. ^ Pictorial history of world crime, Volume 2, p. 1015 (2004)
  3. ^ "Timeline: Shootings at U.S. College Campuses". NPR. April 16, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  4. ^ Violence goes to college: the authoritative guide to prevention and intervention By John Nicoletti, Sally Spencer-Thomas, Christopher Bollinger. p.267-268
  5. ^ a b c San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, August 16, 1996
  6. ^ a b c San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, August 17, 1996
  7. ^ a b c d e f g San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, October 18, 1996
  8. ^ a b "Man pleads innocent in slaying of 3 professors Calif. prosecutors to seek death penalty for student". Los Angeles Times, reprinted in the Baltimore Sun. August 20, 1996. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  9. ^ "Ex-San Diego State Student Pleads Guilty to Murdering 3 Professors". Los Angeles Times. May 28, 1997. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  10. ^ "Man Gets 3 Life Terms For Killing 3 Professors". New York Times. July 19, 1997. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  11. ^ SDSU 360 alumni magazine, Fall/Winter 2003 issue
  12. ^ Ying Lowrey, widow of Preston Lowrey, December 1996
  • Katz J., "Shooting in the Ivory Tower," Dorrance Publishing, Pittsburg, PA, 2007.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°46′39″N 117°04′14″W / 32.7776°N 117.0706°W / 32.7776; -117.0706