November 1, 1991
Iowa City, Iowa
A former graduate student of the University of Iowa goes on a shooting spree, killing 5 and wounding another before killing himself
Gang Lu (28) attended a lecture in room 309 of Van Allen Hall but left prematurely, which others found odd. He returned shortly after, walked to the head of the table, drew a handgun, and shot Professor Christoph Goertz in the back of the head.
Those in the room initially believed the shooting to be a tasteless prank and did not immediately respond. “What are you doing, Lu Gang? Halloween is over,” one student later recounted thinking to himself. Lu then shot doctoral student Linhua Shan — Lu’s former roommate, friend, and scholarly rival in the physics and astronomy department — in the head. Professor Robert Smith was shot next, receiving wounds to his back and arm, before Lu left the room.
Department chair Dwight Nicholson was encountered next, and was shot while in the hallway. “The noise was out of context,” a secretary in the physics department recalled. “I thought it was a book dropping.”
Lu returned to room 309 and demanded those who were attempting to assist the wounded Smith to leave the room. Smith was shot several more times, and both Goertz and Shan were shot once more each to ensure their deaths. Lu next made his way to the office of Administrator T. Anne Cleary who was responsible for investigating student complaints. Lu asked the receptionist to see Cleary but was told she was unavailable. Lu became belligerent until Cleary left her office to see what was the cause of the commotion, at which time Lu shot her in the left nostril. Cleary was critically wounded by the shot and later succumbed to her injury. Lu then turned the gun on the student, shooting her in the mouth. She survived with permanent paralysis.
Lu’s next destination was an empty room on the second floor, room 203. He was later found on the floor in a pool of blood, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The entire attack took approximately 20 minutes.
Evidence was left behind that Lu had planned the attack for months, as long as a year and a half. He purchased guns which he used at target practice until he was satisfied with his aim. In the weeks leading to the murders, Lu drained his bank account and sent the money to his sister in China with instructions to deposit the money as quickly as possible. And on the day of the shooting, Lu left a letter in a briefcase outlining the motive behind his attack and the reasoning he chose each victim. Copies of the letter were also mailed to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Iowa news outlets.
Lu had been jealous that his former friend Shan had won a department award, which carried a $1,000 prize, that Lu had also been competing for. He felt Goertz, Smith, and Nicholson favored Shan, and had brought an official complaint against them to Cleary which he alleged she had ignored. It was unclear why Lu shot the surviving student, however. The Los Angeles Times speculated the shootings were in response to “sexual frustrations” or Lu had “simply stopped being so coolly discriminating with his bullets.”
In addition to the accusations against the university’s faculty, the 3-page letter Lu distributed to the press mentioned his belief firearms were necessary for equality. “I believe in the rights of people to own firearms … Privately owned guns are the only practical way for individuals/minority to protect them[selves] against the oppression from the evil organizations/majority who actually control the government and legal system. Private guns makes every person equal, no matter what/who he/she is.”
Kilen, Mike. “Nov. 1, 1991: Memories of deadly day on University of Iowa campus haunt survivors.” Des Moines Register. November 1, 2018. Accessed: November 1, 2020. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2018/11/01/gang-lu-shooting-university-iowa-campus-iowa-city-guns-handgun-jessup-hall-van-allen-jessup-hall/1848141002/
Kilen, Mike. “Nov. 1, 1991: The day a university shooting rampage shocked Iowa.” Des Moines Register. October 28, 2016. Accessed: November 1, 2020. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2016/10/28/nov-1-1991-day-university-shooting-rampage-shocked-iowa/92053548/
Mann, Jim. “The Physics of Revenge: When Dr. Lu Gang’s American dream died, six people died with it.” Los Angeles Times. June 7, 1992
Marriott, Michel. “Gunman in Iowa Wrote of Plans In Five Letters.” The New York Times. November 3, 1991
“Letter about Gang Lu alleged fraud in Spriestersbach award for dissertation.” The Des Moines Register. November 2, 1991