BLACKSBURG, Virginia – A Virginia Tech graduate student accused of beheading a fellow student displayed erratic and standoffish behavior in the months before the attack on campus this week, his landlord said Friday.
Also on Friday, police filed court papers listing items found in a searches of the off-campus town house occupied by Haiyang Zhu, who is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Xin Yang, and the room where Yang lived on campus.
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Yang, of Beijing, was slain with a large kitchen knife as she had coffee with the 25-year-old Zhu on Wednesday night at a cafe in the building where she lived, a hotel converted into graduate student housing.
A Tech police officer arrived Wednesday night to find Zhu holding 22-year-old Yang's head in his hands, according to a court affidavit filed Thursday. Zhu is being held without bond in the slaying, the first on campus since a gunman killed 32 people and then himself in April 2007.
While a fellow teaching assistant described Zhu as personable, his landlord at Sturbridge Square Apartments said the student behaved oddly and was "belligerent" at times.
Landlord Will Segar said Zhu refused to turn on the heat in the apartment he rented with two others, and as a result the pipes froze and burst. When Segar installed a thermostat that kept the heat at 65 degrees, he said Zhu shut off a breaker in the electric box so the heat wouldn't run.
"He was definitely a combative guy," Segar said, adding that Zhu also recently accused the leasing staff of stealing his shoes.
At the apartment, investigators found a camera, computer file storage equipment and phone records, according to court documents filed Friday. Investigators took a computer, cell phone, camera, planners and a diary from Yang's room.
Investigators also found a $40 check made out to Zhu in Yang's room, a further clue the two were well acquainted with each other. A university official has said Zhu was helping her settle into her new surroundings after her arrival at Virginia Tech on Jan. 8 to seek a master's degree in accounting.
Segar said Zhu brought Yang to the leasing office to apply for an apartment last week.
"He was definitely in charge," Segar said of Zhu. He described Yang as "very meek and very nervous."
Fellow teaching assistant Ken Stanton said he didn't know Zhu well but had observed that he had good social skills.
"He had friends and he was a TA," said Stanton, 30, who is studying engineering education. "You can't be a TA and not be social."
A preliminary hearing has been set for March 5 for Zhu, a doctoral student in agricultural and applied economics from Ningbo, China who arrived at the school in August. His attorney, Stephanie Cox, has not returned calls seeking comment.
Virginia Tech Police were trying to verify the authenticity of a posting on a Chinese-language blog earlier this month under the name Haiyang Zhu that expressed frustration over problems including stock losses, Chief Wendell Flinchum said Friday.
The Jan. 7 posting said, "Recently I've been so frustrated I think only of killing someone or committing suicide."