Campus attack believed to be hate motivated

Geovanny Villalba-Aleman

Last updated August 26 12:40 pm

Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) have identified the suspect of yesterday’s stabbing incident as Geovanny Villalba-Aleman. Villalba-Aleman, an international student, graduated from UW this year with a bachelor of science and since August 2022 has been working at Tim Hortons. He is currently charged with three counts of aggravated assault, four counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes, and mischief under $5,000. Villalba-Aleman has no previous criminal record.

The stabbing which occurred yesterday during a PHIL 202: Gender Issues lecture in Hagey Hall, sent three individuals to hospital. The professor of the class and two students are in non-life-threatening condition. The professor  and one student were taken to a hospital out of the region.

According to a press release from the WRPS, investigators believe the crime is “a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity.” 

Following the incident, community members had been speculating online that the attack was targeted due to the subject matter of the class. Several eyewitness accounts described the suspect asking the subject of the course and confirming the identity of the professor before attacking. 

According to the WRPS, they responded within three minutes of receiving the emergency call at 3:37 p.m. The suspect attacked the professor first, then two of the students who were escaping, and attempted an attack on a third student who was not physically injured. The suspect attempted to blend into the crowd as a victim, but due to eyewitness descriptions, was identified by police. 

Investigation update

At a press conference hosted by the WRPS today at 2 p.m., Chief Mark Crowell said that the police do not believe the suspect coordinated with anybody else, but did believe the attack was planned. Crowell emphasized that the attack was not targeted towards the professor, but rather the subject matter of the class. 

“We believe it was targeted sort of broadly and at large here, we don’t believe that the individuals themselves were targeted for that purpose, but we believe that the class subject was of interest to the suspect and that was the origins of what transpired,” Crowell said.

Crowell stated that WRPS is working with provincial and federal organizations to determine “what we’re able to work [with] from a prosecution standpoint” and whether or not the crime can be categorized as a hate crime. 

Concerns regarding UW’s immediate response

At the press conference, when asked about the failure of WatSafe and other issues with campus communications during the incident, James Rush, vice-president academic and provost, acknowledged that there were communication breakdowns to the wider campus community, but that the breakdowns didn’t impact the response to the incident itself.

“I think the important point is that the location of the incident was localized and was contained rapidly. The communication that was in deficit would have been to the broader areas of the campus and the general awareness on the campus which is a very unfortunate delay,” Rush said.

When asked specifically about the WatSafe failure, Rush said that “the coordination with our emergency incident alert system wasn’t activated as quickly as we would have normally expected. And there are a number of reasons for that.” However, he denied that WatSafe notifications were up to 90 minutes late, despite members of the UW community asserting otherwise.

An additional charge, one count of attempt to commit murder, was laid August 25 against Villalba-Aleman.

Villalba-Aleman’s next scheduled court appearance is September 8.

Updated to remove the name of the professor to comply with a publication ban.