A student holding a knife bolted from a Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley computer lab Tuesday morning and for a split second stared into Associate Vice Chancellor Tom Vansaghi’s eyes.
“It was as if he looked at me and then said to himself, ‘No, you’re not the one I want,’” Vansaghi recalled.
The 22-year-old student — wearing black clothes and a bullet-resistant vest — darted past Vansaghi and lunged at Al Dimmitt Jr., stabbing the campus dean of instruction in the neck.
Dimmitt, 55, fell to the floor, his attacker on top of him.
Vansaghi and MCC Chancellor Mark James wrestled the knife away and pinned the attacker down. Students and staff raced to help. Some quickly turned to Dimmitt, using their hands and later paper towels to stem the flow of blood.
Dimmitt underwent surgery at an area hospital and was in stable condition later Tuesday.
Prosecutors charged Casey Brezik of Raytown with two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action.
Before the 9:35 a.m. stabbing, Dimmitt, James and about 50 other top brass from the five MCC campuses were in the Penn Valley Humanities building awaiting the arrival of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who had planned to speak to students, faculty and staff at 10 a.m. in the first-floor computer lab.
It was to be Nixon’s first stop of a three-city visit Tuesday to detail the $57.6 million expansion of high-speed Internet services across 31 Missouri counties, including $5 million to create computing centers at seven community colleges.
Nixon had wanted Penn Valley, 3201 Southwest Trafficway, as a backdrop for the announcement and he wanted students present. He had just landed at the Wheeler Downtown Airport when word of the attack reached him. He canceled the appearance and headed to Springfield, his next planned stop.
His security detail earlier Tuesday had swept the Penn Valley Humanities building and computer lab, Vansaghi said.
“Everything was clean,” Vansaghi said. “We had no way of knowing that guy was going to be in there with a knife.”
Kansas City police were investigating whether the attack originally was intended for Nixon because of Brezik’s bullet-resistant vest and political views, including recent rants on his Facebook page.
Described by family as an anarchist, Brezik mostly sat quietly in the back in classes, but sometimes argued with professors about political issues, Penn Valley students said.
About an hour before the stabbing, the digital media student posted on his Facebook page: “Pharaoh let my people go! We have but two options.”
In earlier postings, he referred to himself as a radical and posted several updates challenging people to take a stand, including being willing to “lay your life on the line.”
Also on Facebook, he bragged of being arrested in June for spitting on an officer during a protest at the Toronto G20 summit.
Yet college officials awaiting the governor said Brezik had not been on any campus watch list.
“He wasn’t even on our radar,” Vansaghi said.
Dimmitt has worked at MCC for more than 20 years, the last eight as a dean. Campus officials described him as a “well-respected member of the college’s administration,” and an active civic leader.
About 30 minutes before the stabbing, Samantha Robinson, a second-year human services major, sat in the computer lab next to Brezik.
“As usual, he had earphones in his ears and he was sitting there texting and laughing,” she recalled later.
Another second-year student, Keisha Walker, said the class instructor “had just told us the governor was coming and asked us to be on our best behavior.”
A lectern and microphone had been placed in the center of the lab.
Brezik walked up to the microphone and said, “Check, check. Can everybody hear me?” students recalled.
According to various witnesses, Brezik paced the room, fiddling with a knife with a 5-inch blade. A college administrative assistant saw the knife and told Dimmitt. Brezik may have overheard them talking, the assistant later told police.
When Dimmitt left the room to notify security crews waiting for Nixon on the lower level, Brezik “got up and rushed out of the lab,” Robinson said.
Someone yelled, “Watch out!”
Walker looked through a window to the hallway.
“I saw this guy just run up on the dean,” she said. “I saw him cut the dean’s throat and the dean just collapsed on the floor.”
Vansaghi and James were in the busy hallway, a few steps from the attack. James sprinted over. The assailant lunged at him with the knife, nicking James in the chest. James put the assailant in a headlock. Vansaghi grabbed the attacker’s wrist with both hands to keep him from swinging the knife.
“This guy was really strong,” Vansaghi said. “About four or five students jumped on him, too, to help hold him down.”
Vansaghi looked over at Dimmitt, unresponsive on the floor, and saw “all the blood.” He screamed: “Call an ambulance!”
Penn Valley students said the incident made them concerned for their safety on campus, but at the same time they worried that tighter security might strip them of some freedoms.
“That could mean maybe metal detectors, or we could lose privileges,” said Tamyca Seevers, a second-year arts major. “We could, like, have professors telling us we can’t bring stuff, like our bags and backpacks into the building.”
Campus administrators, including James, met with students, staff and faculty after the incident to assure them the campus was safe and to let them know counselors from Truman Medical Center were there.
Although administrators said they did not remember ever having had similar violence on the urban campus, Penn Valley was in the process of converting its security force to a commissioned armed police department.
In light of Tuesday’s stabbing, MCC officials plan to evaluate security measures throughout all their campuses.
“And now after this I think maybe we should have had metal detectors and screened everyone,” Vansaghi said. “We are going to have to be a lot more cautious in the future, especially when we have a guest like the governor coming.”