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Mystery Surrounds BB Gun Shooting on Piedmont Ave

21 October 2008 One Comment

By Will Jason

When University of California, Berkeley junior Mariana Kayichian looked for new housing this summer, it was with safety in mind that she chose a house on Piedmont Avenue.

Mariana Kayichian stands on her Piedmont Ave. balcony, where, on Oct 4 she said she was shot in the forehead with a BB gun

Mariana Kayichian stands on her Piedmont Ave. balcony, where, on Oct 4 she said she was shot in the forehead with a BB gun

Since most of her friends live just a few blocks away, Kayichian knew she wouldn’t need to risk long walks home from parties at night. Other students also advised her that Piedmont, Berkeley’s unofficial fraternity row and an undergraduate nightlife hub had a lower risk of crime than other neighborhoods near campus.

So it was especially shocking when, as Kayichian, 19, stood chatting with friends on her balcony on a Saturday night, she was shot in the head with a BB gun and knocked to the floor.

No arrests have been made, and no one saw the shooter, according to Kayichian, witnesses and a police report. There are no buildings across the street close enough for a shot onto Kayichian’s balcony, and no pedestrians were seen nearby, witnesses said. Those present say they think the BB must have been randomly fired from a moving car.

“It was the weirdest, most hilarious situation in the world,” Kayichian said in an interview a week after the incident. “It wasn’t hilarious at the time because I was kind of in a lot of pain, but looking back the next morning it was just the most random thing.”

Kayichian’s friends who witnessed the incident spoke a little more gravely in their accounts of what happened. A little before 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, they heard a loud noise, said junior Ani Mazmanyan, 20, who was a few feet from Kayichian when she was shot. It wasn’t until Mazmanyan saw the stream of blood pouring from her friend’s forehead slowed that she realized what had happened.

“When the blood stopped gushing, we saw how deep the wound was,” Mazmanyan said. “The scariest part is it could have hit her eye and it could have blinded her.”

Kayichian declined medical treatment and stayed at home following the incident, where it took several hours for the wound to stop bleeding and her ears to stop ringing. Only a small scar remains on her forehead, and she said she is not concerned for her safety because she believes the BB was randomly fired.

“I figured it was just an accident,” she said.

But Mazmanyan said the incident changed her thinking about safety in the neighborhood.

“I don’t go on the balcony anymore,” she said.

Berkeley Police Department spokesman Andrew Frankel said that while BB gun shootings are rare near the campus, he was not surprised the incident happened, especially near fraternity houses. Frankel said he was shot more than 10 years ago while walking home from class at the University of Maryland.

“I think it was somebody with a BB gun from a nearby fraternity,” Frankel said.

BB guns are low-grade guns powered by air rather than gunpowder. They are often sold as toys.

The weapons and fraternities have a history of mixing at Berkeley and other campuses around the country, according to news reports. In 2005, Berkeley’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter was closed for a year after a prospective member was shot at least 30 times during hazing activities. The victim was treated at a hospital for welts and bruises and then released, according to a university statement.

That same year, a fraternity member at Dartmouth College in Vermont was charged with randomly firing a BB gun, injuring a fellow student. And in 1999, a University of Michigan student underwent surgery after he was shot in the groin with a BB gun by a member of the fraternity he was trying to join.

Frankel said some students view BB guns as toys, and do not realize they can cause serious injuries.

“You need to treat all firearms, including BB guns with the respect that they deserve,” he said.

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