LOS ANGELES — Gunfire tore through the new 3-series BMW near the University of Southern California campus in the midnight rain, shattering the car's windows and striking the 20-year-old Chinese international student inside, police said.
Her companion, a Chinese student and the driver, was also struck early Wednesday, but was able to run to a nearby house where he pounded on the door pleading for help, they said.
Soon, Ying Wu and Ming Qu were dead, and the search for their killer was on. Police suspect an attempted carjacking.
As word of the shooting spread across the Pacific, it laid bare every parent's nightmare: Sending their child off to school far from home only to have them get hurt or killed.
At USC, the international student presence is enormous — it has the largest number of any university in the U.S. Roughly 19 percent of the school's 38,000 students are from overseas, including 2,500 from China.
And some students said the shooting could be a cautionary tale for others who want to study overseas.
"If parents hear about this in China, it might affect their decision," said Chrissy Yao, a Chinese-American who moved to the U.S. when she was 10 and is a senior engineering student. "Since two lives were lost, I think concerns will remain for quite a while."
Police said the shooting occurred around 1 a.m. and may have been a robbery or a carjacking attempt of the dark-colored, $60,000 BMW. Witnesses said the car was in the roadway, not at the curb, at the time of the shooting.
Gloria Tigolo lives on the tree-lined street of two-story Craftsman homes and apartment buildings and said she heard a gunshot. She said she went downstairs but didn't go outside because it was raining.
Investigators said earlier that several shots were fired at the couple.
Four people have been killed this year in the area, police said, but violent crime is down 20 percent this year. Neighborhood watch signs are posted along the street and police were trying to determine if there are any surveillance cameras in the area.
Tigolo said she would often see Wu in the neighborhood, wearing dark sunglasses but rarely saw her drive.
Qu managed to get out of the car and run to a nearby home, where he pounded on the door, police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. It wasn't known if anyone answered the door before the man collapsed.
The gunman fled on foot and no description has been yet released by authorities.
Amy Cho and Ingyo Hwang, both international students from Korea, said they were saddened to hear about the deaths. Both women said on Wednesday morning that they hadn't heard from their parents because of the time difference, but they do expect to hear from them.
"If they know about it, they would be worried," said Cho, who is studying business.
Hwang, who is studying piano, said she's often at the campus late at night and she, like other international students, is scared because the school is located in a gritty part of Los Angeles.
USC is in an urban center within a mile of gang-infested neighborhoods that have been plagued by high crime.
"A lot of people are going to be talking about the shooting because they were international students," Hwang said.
In addition to China, 17.5 percent of USC's international students are from India, 10 percent from South Korea, 5.5 percent from Taiwan, 4.4 percent from Canada, 2.3 percent from Iran and just above 2 percent each from Hong Kong and Indonesia.
Just as Chinese students are the largest segment at USC, they comprise nearly one-fourth of the nearly 724,000 international students attending colleges and universities in the U.S.
In recent years, they have helped fuel record international student enrollment on U.S. campuses.
The types of students who come from abroad tend to skew wealthier because they often have less access to financial aid and must foot more of the bill themselves. With China's economic boom, more families can now afford to send their children overseas.
Both victims were graduate students studying electrical engineering. Their hometowns were not immediately released and messages left for the Chinese consulate were not immediately returned.
Yao, the senior engineering student, said she hopes that campus police could expand their patrol areas near the campus to provide better safety for students.
The West Adams district, where the shooting took place, has seen some revitalization.
Beatriz Moreno, who lives across the street with her family from where the shooting occurred, said the neighborhood has been cleaned up. She said the last shooting she could remember on her street was in 2003.
"We used to see this every day," she said. "There are mostly families here. This is not normal."