LOS ANGELES — UCLA professor Ajit Mal was in his office Wednesday getting ready to teach his 10 a.m. engineering class when he heard two pops.
He came out of his fourth-floor office in the Engineering 4 building as did his colleague Christopher Lynch. They looked at each other.
“What was that?” Mal said.
“That’s a gunshot,” Lynch replied.
Down the hall in his westward-facing office, their colleague, William Klug, had been shot dead by Mainak Sarkar, a former doctoral student who had accused the professor of stealing his computer code and giving it to someone else.
But neither Mal nor Lynch, both professors of mechanical and aerospace engineering, knew that at the time.
Lynch did know that Klug, an engineering professor described by colleagues as both brilliant and kind, would never take his own life. He figured a shooter was inside.
And he knew that more than a dozen faculty and staff members were on the floor at the time.
So he went to Klug’s office and held the door shut.
“If he had stepped out, we’d all be in trouble,” Lynch said of the shooter.
After that, Lynch heard a third shot inside. Then silence. Lynch assumed the shooter had killed himself.
Within minutes, the professors said, police converged and cleared out the floor. Lynch gave the door key to police without looking inside and left. He said he did not feel Sarkar try to open the door after the shooting but was sure the gunman had heard the yells from the hallway to clear out and that police had been called.
Mal credits Lynch with saving his life. Besides holding the door shut, Mal said, Lynch also shouted at him and other colleagues to return to their offices and close their doors.
Sarkar had been armed with two semiautomatic pistols and extra magazines, and was “certainly prepared to engage multiple victims,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said.
“If he had come out with a loaded gun, I don’t think I’d be alive,” Mal said of Sarkar. “Chris Lynch’s presence of mind and quick action saved us.”
“Not a single person panicked,” Lynch said. “Everyone acted professionally.”