- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va. | 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 Friday, police filed court papers listing items found in a search of the off-campus town house occupied by Haiyang Zhu, who is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Xin Yang, as well as the room where Miss Yang lived on campus.

Miss Yang, of Beijing, was slain with a large kitchen knife as she had coffee with Mr. Zhu, 25, 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 Mr. Zhu holding Miss Yang’s head in his hands, according to a court affidavit filed Thursday. Mr. 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 Mr. Zhu as personable, his landlord at Sturbridge Square Apartments said the student behaved oddly and was “belligerent” at times.

Landlord Will Segar said Mr. 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 Mr. Segar installed a thermostat that kept the heat at 65 degrees, he said Mr. Zhu shut off a breaker in the electric box so the heat wouldn’t run.

“He was definitely a combative guy,” Mr. Segar said, adding that Mr. Zhu also recently accused the leasing staff of stealing his shoes.

An unmailed letter in Miss Yang’s room had a red “kiss” on the seal, the court filing said, but did not say to whom it was addressed.

Investigators also found a $40 check made out to Mr. Zhu in Miss Yang’s room, a further clue the two were well acquainted with each other. A university official has said Mr. Zhu was helping Miss Yang settle into her new surroundings after her arrival at Virginia Tech on Jan. 8 to seek a master’s degree in accounting.

Mr. Segar said Mr. Zhu brought Miss Yang to the leasing office to apply for an apartment last week.

“He was definitely in charge,” Mr. Segar said. He described Miss Yang as “very meek and very nervous.”

Fellow teaching assistant Ken Stanton said he didn’t know Mr. Zhu well but had observed his good social skills.

“He had friends and he was a TA,” said Mr. 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 Mr. Zhu, a doctoral student in agricultural and applied economics from Ningbo, China, who arrived at the school in August.

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.”

Three representatives of the Chinese Embassy met with Virginia Tech officials Friday to discuss how the school could assist Miss Yang’s family and how the U.S. court system works, among other things, said university spokesman Larry Hincker.

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