LOS ANGELES — Brave, serious, diligent. That's how two Chinese graduate students who were shot and killed near the University of Southern California campus were described during a candlelight vigil attended by hundreds of students.
Clay Dube, executive director of the USC-China Institute, spoke to the parents of Ying Wu and Ming Qu on behalf of the university, and said the parents were shocked and devastated by the phone call.
"The families have invested so much in these children, so much love, so much hope, and the children know that. They know the expectation is they will come here and succeed," Dube said at Wednesday night's vigil.
Wu and Qu, who police say were believed to have been dating, were killed when a gunman opened fire on them while they were sitting in a BMW outside Wu's apartment early Wednesday, just after midnight. Police said it may have been a robbery or carjacking attempt.
The driver, Qu, was able to make it from the car, through the rain, to a house where he pounded on the door pleading for help.
Both were dead by the time they got to the hospital,
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.
Votive candles in the shape of a heart and white roses and lilies sat at the foot of the Tommy Trojan statue, the university's collegiate symbol, where grieving students dressed mainly in black and faculty gathered for the vigil.
The slayings shook the campus, which has a large international student population, and laid bare a parent's worst nightmare: having their child harmed in a faraway place.
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."
Hours after the shooting, daisies, gladiolas and calla lilies sat next to a small table on the walkway of the home to which Qu ran for help. On the table was a remembrance book with a sign that read: "We will give this book to the parents of Ying Wu and Ming Qu. Write here in English or Chinese if you would like to share your thoughts with them."
Gloria Tigolo lives on the tree-lined street of two-story 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 in the area 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.
The gunman fled on foot, and no description has been yet released by authorities.
Jessie Cai, 21, is an undergraduate student in electrical engineering and an international student from China who lives in the West Adams neighborhood. Cai said she is shaken over the shooting and is thinking of moving out of the area as a result.
"I do worry because we get a lot of crime alerts but we never actually catch the criminals," she said. She said she hasn't told her parents about the shooting yet, but she is sure "they will be freaking out" about it.
USC is in an urban center within a mile of gang-infested neighborhoods that have been plagued by high crime. The last time a USC student was killed was in September 2008 when Bryan Frost, 23, of Eagle, Idaho, was fatally stabbed by a former usher at USC football games. Travion Ford was sentenced to 16 years to life after being convicted of second-degree murder. The two men were involved in an off-campus altercation.
Associated Press Writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.