|Students at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell
New York, Dec. 24: A student from Calcutta has pleaded not guilty to the charge of trying to kill his teacher at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
Nikhil Dhar, 22, allegedly stabbed associate professor Mary Elizabeth Hooker in the neck on Thursday evening, the last day of the semester, apparently during an argument over his falling grades in haematology.
Hooker, 54, was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.
Dhar, who has been held without bail pending hearing, pleaded not guilty to the charges of armed assault with the intent of murder and battery with a dangerous weapon in the appearance at the district court in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hooker, an associate professor in the department of clinical laboratory and nutritional sciences, was allegedly stabbed by Dhar at her Cambridge home, 30 km from the campus at Lowell, after being dragged out, according to police records.
The police said they found a bloody note with the word kill in his right coat pocket.
An Indian MBA student at the university told The Telegraph: “The local American community is horrified and furious at this incident and is crying for Nikhil’s blood. The situation is not too happy here.”
The police records said Dhar followed Hooker home from the university and told the police later that he wanted to discuss his grade with her.
A report in the Boston Globe newspaper said, quoting the police, that he and Hooker had wrestled over a knife and she probably thought he was a burglar.
The paper said Dhar told the police that he had left his knife in his car but Hooker, dressed in a blue night shirt, was carrying a knife when she opened the door. But Hooker did not mention a knife, said the police report.
The incident has deeply disturbed the university faculty and students, particularly the Indians. People who know Hooker and Dhar expressed disbelief.
The Globe quoted Garry Handelman, who worked with Hooker, as saying: “She is not the kind of teacher a student would go after. She is extremely kind, very gentle, very considerate.”
Those acquainted with Dhar, an elected senator in the student government, said they were shocked to hear he had been charged with the attack.
“Honestly, I would never have known that he would do something like this,” said Mita Hirani, a fellow student, by email to the Globe.
“He’s a nice kid and just very active in school and always there for everyone.”
A report quoted Dhar’s attorney Stephen Hrones as saying it was a “complicated case” with two sides.
“There is absolutely nothing in his past that would indicate an incident of this nature.”
Dhar, whose hearing comes up on Wednesday, is on a student visa. His mother is a middle school teacher in New York and his father a research scientist in India, the police said.
Dhar’s parents were stunned by the charges, Hrones said. “They are not taking it very well.”
Carlos Madden, Hooker’s neighbour, told the Globe he heard shouting and ran outside to find Dhar crouching over her body as she lay on the sidewalk covered in blood.
“He started slowly walking away. When I caught up with him at the corner, he said, ‘I have a knife.’ He seemed pretty calm. He told me, ‘She started it.’”
When the police arrived after Madden’s call, Hooker was standing on her front porch, bleeding with a 4-inch slash in her neck.
Dhar was standing on a nearby lawn with “blood all over his hands”.
Amit Asthana, graduate student of plastic engineering, said: “I never thought that he would do such a thing. But this has certainly hurt the image of the Indian student community here.”
Written with Boston Globe and agency reports