A former Lehigh University student was charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment, NBC News is reporting.
Yukai Yang, age 22, was an international student from China and studying chemistry. He was first accused of leaving racist graffiti for his black roommate, Juwan Royal, to find. Now, Yang is accused of trying to kill Royal by slowly poisoning him over the span of a few months with small amounts of thallium and possibly other chemicals.
Thallium is a toxic metal that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, rendering it almost undetectable. It can result in death if consumed. According to NBC Philadelphia, thallium was once used in a household rodent or ant killer but was eventually banned in the United States.
“Initially, Mr. Royal was as dumbfounded by this as everyone else, because he believed they had a fairly cordial relationship as roommates,” said Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis.
Royal recalled to police taking a sip of a water bottle in February and feeling a burning sensation in his mouth. Yang allegedly continued to mix chemicals into Royal’s food, drinks, and mouthwash. In March, Royal fell ill multiple times, and experienced dizziness, shaking, and vomiting. These symptoms continued to worsen, and when Royal’s blood was tested, the thallium was detected. Yang told authorities that he noticed a change in color in Royal’s milk and mouthwash, and suggested that maybe someone was tampering with them.
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Yang was confronted about his involvement when he was already being questioned about the racist graffiti he left for Royal in May. Yang claimed that he did indeed purchase various chemicals and that he had bought them so he could harm himself if he did poorly on his exams. He then admitted to mixing them in food and drinks in his and Royal’s shared refrigerator.
“The Lehigh University Police Department has worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office on the investigation and will continue to do so,” a spokeswoman for the school stated.
“From the outset, our concern has been the health and safety of the victim of these alleged behaviors and, as such, Lehigh staff and faculty have been providing support, services and assistance.”
Yang is no longer a student at the school and has had his student visa taken away. He was also charged separately for ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism, and criminal mischief due to his racist graffiti. As for Royal, he has since graduated but is still experiencing side-effects from the poisoning.