Ph.D. Cancer Researcher At Stanford Arrested For 'Poisoning Classmates' With Carcinogenic Embalming Fluid

Tara West

A star pupil and cancer researcher at Stanford University has been arrested on four felony poisoning charges after lacing her classmates' bottled water with carcinogenic embalming fluid. The 26-year-old student, Xiangyu Ouyang, was on a state-sponsored scholarship to Stanford from Singapore after receiving the prestigious A*Star award for her studies at Imperial College London.

The SF Gate reports that the poisoning was discovered after a few students complained about strange smells in their water bottles and irritation after drinking the water.

One of the victims told police, "I think someone is trying to kill me!" after drinking from the tainted water bottle.

Police and the university began investigating the incident and found that some of the water bottles contained paraformaldehyde, an embalming fluid with numerous known side effects. When exposed to the known carcinogen, it can cause minor skin irritations, respiratory illness, or even death.

Despite being a star pupil and obviously knowing the side effects of the paraformaldehyde, Ouyang says she never meant to harm anyone. Instead, she claims her actions were a "cry for help."

"I am truly sorry for what happened, but I really didn't mean to harm people. It was me crying out for help."

In fact, police learned that Ouyang was responsible for the poisonings after she checked herself into a hospital for mental health issues. The student claims that not only was she poisoning her fellow classmates, she was also poisoning herself. Ouyang says she laced her own bottled water with the embalming fluid but suffered no side effects.

Vice reports that numerous students complained about chemicals in their bottled water. The incidents became so regular in the classroom that most students would sniff their bottles of water before taking a drink. A number of the bottles were thrown out when they smelled of paraformaldehyde.

"For weeks, researchers in the lab had been sniffing their water bottles before drinking, and multiple times each week, the bottles smelled strongly of paraformaldehyde. But none of the students suspected that they were being intentionally poisoned by the 'awkward and quiet' second-year Stanford Medical School student in the lab."

Though Ouyang says she did not target any specific individuals for the poisoning, it was only women of Asian descent who had tainted water bottles. One victim says that she feels she was specifically targeted because she had noticed that all of her stem cells for her research project kept mysteriously dying. Therefore, after the water bottle incident and the mysterious death of her stem cells, she began to mislabel some of her items purposefully with other student's names. Only the stem cells with her name were tampered with; therefore, she went to school officials. The school said they would handle the matter internally. However, with more students beginning to come forward with poisoning complaints, campus police became involved.

After school officials got involved, Ouyang checked herself into the campus hospital for treatment of a mental illness. However, she was held on a 5150 d, involuntary psych hold, which prompted her to call the dean of the school for help. In her conversations with the dean, she revealed she had placed chemicals in other students water bottles, but claims she didn't know what she was doing at the time.

After police were called to speak with Ouyang, she freely admitted to the poisonings but said it was done in a trance-like state, such as sleep-walking. Despite her pleas that mental health issues resulted in the poisonings of her classmates, police arrested the woman on four counts of felony poisoning. She may face up to eight years in jail.

[Image Credit: A*Star/ Getty Images]