- Police arrested and charged Chinese international student Yukai Yang Thursday for allegedly trying to poison his roommate, Juwan Royal, at Lehigh University.
- Yang was previously charged for vandalizing Royal’s room and leaving racist graffiti on Royal’s desk.
- Investigators said Yang’s motive remains unclear. Chinese cultural views of black people might have factored into his actions, however, in light of the racist graffiti.
Pennsylvania police arrested a Chinese international student Thursday for allegedly vandalizing his black roommate’s belongings with racist graffiti and poisoning him with thallium.
Authorities charged Yukai Yang with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment for his alleged attempts to kill his roommate, Juwan Royal, at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said Yang attempted to poison Royal over a period of time from February through March by adding thallium to food and drinks in their refrigerator. (RELATED: Google’s Secret Chinese Censorship Project Effectively Ends After Employees Revolted)
Former Lehigh University student Yukai Yang accused of poisoning roommate, whose blood tested positive for the toxic metal thallium above the safe toxicity level for people | via @SarahCassi @lehighvalley https://t.co/wQatwkraiS pic.twitter.com/XmCYADQVBh
— Kurt Bresswein (@kurtbresswein) December 20, 2018
Authorities also believe Yang ransacked Royal’s room and left graffiti on Royal’s desk that read “N***** get out of here,” according to Morganelli.
“This was over a period of time with small amounts of poisoning occurring. It was added to food and drinks in the refrigerator,” Morganelli said, according to The Washington Post.
Authorities first responded to an act of poisoning against Royal in February. One night that month, Royal said he felt a burning sensation in his mouth immediately after drinking from a water bottle. Concerned, he woke up Yang and the two ran to the restroom where Royal washed out his mouth.
Morganelli said Yang then commented to Royal “so the substance that they are putting in your drink is colorless, odorless and dissolves in water,” much the same way that Dr. Cyrus Rangan, assistant medical director of the California Poison Control System, described thallium as a “tasteless, odorless, and extremely potent poison.” Yang’s description of what happened did not immediately garner suspicion, as both he and Royal were chemistry majors.
As little as one gram of the chemical can kill an adult if ingested. The chemical is used as poison in Russia and China, and was also used in the 1980s to kill dissident scientists in the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“Thallium affects one’s nervous system, lungs, heart, liver and kidney if large amounts are eaten or ingested for short periods of time,” Morganelli said. “Temporary hair loss, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur, and death may result after exposure to significant amounts of thallium.”
Royal’s tongue was sore for several days after the first incident. He fell ill again March 18, and Yang told authorities then that he suspected someone had sabotaged the liquids in their room, as Royal’s mouthwash and the milk in their refrigerator had changed color, seemingly inexplicably. Royal’s condition worsened March 29, when he began vomiting and shaking and could not stop. He was taken to the hospital.
Police were called to Royal’s room one week later, in response to the vandalism and racist graffiti. Yang had alerted Royal to the vandalism, leading Royal to become suspicious of Yang.
“Mr. Royal told officers at that time he felt Mr. Yang his roommate was somehow responsible for the damages that had been done to his property,” Morganelli said. “Mr. Royal stated that Mr. Yang was the person who always found the strange incidents happening in his room.”
Authorities matched Yang’s handwriting from a written statement he provided to investigators to the graffiti on Royal’s desk.
Yang’s alleged involvement reportedly came as a surprise, both to school officials and to Royal. They arrested Yang in April and charged him with ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal mischief. Lehigh University suspended Yang shortly thereafter, and authorities found information on Yang’s computer and cellphone that implicated him in the poisoning incidents. Authorities also had a blood test performed on Royal and found 3.6 micrograms of thallium in his system — an amount that is harmful to the human body.
Police said Yang later confessed in a May 25 interview with investigators that he in fact bought thallium and used it to poison food and drinks, but claimed he did so intending only to poison himself in the event that he failed exams.
Investigators said Yang’s motive for allegedly attempting to kill his roommate remains unclear. Culture, however, might have factored into Yang’s alleged racist graffiti and alleged poisoning attempts. Incidents of racism against black people are reportedly common in China from everyday citizens, state-run media, the authorities and even Chinese airlines.
“To be Black or African in China is to be labeled unintelligent, dangerous, unattractive, or to see an empty seat next to you on a crowded subway,” wrote Leroy Adams for Inkstone News.
During China’s Spring Festival broadcast, a Chinese woman shuffled onto the stage in blackface, wearing a prosthetic butt and breasts, hailing China for bringing railroads and medical care to Africa. The Chinese social media platform WeChat issued an apology in 2017 for translating the Chinese word for “black foreigner” to “n*****” in English. Air China magazine also issued an apology in 2016 for advising passengers that “precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis, and black people,” in London.
Black citizens of the Chinese city Guangzhou also report frequent, unprovoked police harassment, accusations of crime, and passport checks. The Chinese call Guangzhou the “Chocolate City,” in reference to its significant African community.
“Initially, Mr. Royal was dumbfounded by this as everyone else, because he believed they had a fairly cordial relationship as roommates,” said Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis, according to Lehigh Valley Live.
“We’re trying to explain the unexplainable because, right now, everyone is like, ‘What could have happened?'” said Kevelis Matthews-Alvarado, resident adviser for the building where Yang and Royal roomed together. “We just don’t know.”
Yang remains in custody. His charges related to the vandalism of Royal’s room are pending and he is no longer enrolled at Lehigh University. Royal graduated, but unfortunately still deals with the after-effects of the poison.
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