James Chow says he is still in an adrenaline rush a day after witnessing an attack at the University of Waterloo that police have described as “hate-motivated.”
Waterloo Regional Police said officers were called to the school at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday after a stabbing was reported at the school’s Hagey Hall.
Officers found two women and a man suffering from stab wounds. In an update Thursday, police said the gender studies class was “targeted” in what investigators believe was a “hate-motivated incident.”
“I’m just feeling a bit angry … I personally was not injured from the attack – I was scared for my life – but I know that my professor and two of my classmates were injured,” said Chow, a graduate student in philosophy.
He was in the second row of seating when he says a man with a backpack came into the room near the end of class and began to talk to the professor.
“He said to the teacher, ‘Oh, is this such and such psychology class?’ And the professor replied, ‘Oh no, you’re probably in the wrong class.’ Then he said, ‘Oh, what class is this?’ The professor replied, ‘This is a gender class’ or ‘philosophy of gender class.’”
Chow says the man asked if he could stay and the professor asked him to leave.
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“While the man was listening to a reply, he put down his backpack in front of him at his feet, and he pulled out a knife. It still had like one of those sheaths or covers on it, like a plastic one.”
Upon hearing that it was a gender studies course, Chow says the man’s body language changed, as though he were “happy” to hear that he was in that class.
“The thing that disgusts me the most is this vile, mischievous smile that he had on his face and immediately the professor’s face just turned to like pure fear.”
Chow, who has been taking spring courses to catch up on prerequisites needed for his masters of philosophy, says his classmates began screaming as the suspect started to chase the professor down the middle of the classroom.
“Our classroom is like a rectangle, but there’s only one entrance at the front where the man had entered and she ran to the back of the class. At this point, it was just pandemonium. Everyone was screaming.”
In the heat of the moment, Chow says he decided he needed to “at least attack him or injure him” so he says he threw a chair at the suspect as he cornered the professor in the back of the room. The professor was covering her face and screaming, Chow says.
“The next thing I know, I was running outside with a bunch of the other students and I was screaming to them like, ‘Get out of the building now.’”
In a news conference on Thursday, police confirmed reports that some students threw objects at the suspect, including chairs, in an effort to try to stop the attack.
“I don’t have a full picture for exactly what transpired, but I applaud those who really sought to stand up and to intervene in the best way they could,” said Waterloo police chief Mark Crowell.
Eventually, Chow and three female students fled out of the main entrance to the theatre and told two maintenance workers that their teacher had been attacked and to call 911.
One of the other students also called 911 and Chow and other students who were “not crying hysterically” screamed at anyone headed towards the building not to go in.
Chow says he only learned that two other students had been injured once he was gathered in a crowd with other students, police and paramedics.
On Thursday, police confirmed the attack was being investigated as “hate-motivated,” an assertion that Chow feels is correct.
“The fact that his body language changed when the professor answered that this is the gender philosophy class, I think this was motivated by hatred of transgender people and queer people in general.”
Geovanny Villalba-Aleman, a 24-year-old international student, is facing charges including aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and mischief under $5,000.
Police say there were 40 people in the classroom at the time of the attack with the victims being the professor, “a 38-year-old Kitchener female, and two students: a 20-year-old Waterloo female and a 19-year-old Waterloo male.”
The trio of victims were all left with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.
‘He was very shy’: Friend of suspect shocked by attack
A friend and classmate of Villalba-Aleman said he is “shocked” to hear that he allegedly attacked three people on campus. Global News is giving anonymity to the friend, who will be called George.
“I didn’t know he had this sort of mindset,” he said.
George said he shared a few English classes with Villalba-Aleman and got to know the Ecuadorian international student over the past year.
“He was very quiet, he was never an outgoing kind of guy, didn’t have much presence on campus or clubs, he was pretty straight to his academics,” he said.
George said that Villalba-Aleman was a very gifted student, and while English was not his first language, he could pick it up rather quickly.
“While he was socially awkward, he had a natural ability to pick up on things easily,” he said. “He was keen on learning.”
When asked about the stabbing taking place in a gender-based studies class, George noted that he didn’t think it was hate-motivated.
“He was really shy, kinda held back, but to my knowledge, he had no hatred towards anybody,” he said. “Geo just had something go wrong; a few screws go loose; I really don’t think it’s hate-motivated.”
The friend described him as “super-caring” and didn’t believe the narrative of the stabbings being hate-motivated based on gender. Still, when asked if Villalba-Aleman might not have shared all his views publicly, George noted that was likely. He also acknowledged that they primarily talked about Villalba-Aleman’s family and didn’t know what he might have been doing in his spare time.
“He never talked about any of these things, expressed any of these beliefs, at least to us or openly,” he said.
For Villalba-Aleman to not talk to people was not uncommon, George said that he was fairly reclusive and struggled to connect with people.
“In our English program, he would not talk to anybody. He was really shy,” he said.
According to George, Villalba-Aleman’s relationships with women were non-existent, adding that he didn’t see him interact with women and often struggled to chat with them.
“He never had any sort of girlfriends, but he had an interest in women … He never had any interactions,” he said. “It was a little harder for him to (be) around women.”
But, George did add that Villalba-Aleman came from a conservative religious background in his home country of Ecuador and held some beliefs against the LGBTQ2 community. He said that the University of Waterloo has tried to have diversity initiatives on its campus, like drag storytime or painting the road in the colours of Pride, which Villalba-Aleman didn’t like – and publicly stated.
“He may not have been the most accepting, but he still allowed everyone to do their own thing,” he said.
When asked how serious those beliefs were, George said they weren’t “radical” and described them as “mild.”
“He was very opposed to certain UWaterloo initiatives,” he said, noting that it was the same as a “normal Conservative man.”
— with files from Global News’ Catherine McDonald.