When Souleymane "Jules" Sakho walked into the Binghamton University Counseling Center nearly two weeks ago to express his concern about his roommate, he said he was advised to avoid interaction with Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani.
Later that week, Al-Zahrani was remanded to the Broome County Jail, accused of stabbing professor emeritus Richard Antoun to death.
Dr. Mary Muscari, director of the O'Connor Office of Rural Health Studies in the Decker School of Nursing, spoke generally about situations of looming violence.
"You really should pay attention to threats," she said. Muscari is a specialist in forensics and an authority on violence in schools. She was consulted frequently in reference to the shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999.
"Not every threat is going to escalate," she said, "but threats themselves are inappropriate." She noted that it is illegal to threaten a person.
Details of the information discussed in Sakho's consultation with the University Counseling Center are protected under doctor-patient confidentiality agreements, but Sakho did state that he brought the situation to the attention of the center.
The Counseling Center's Clinical Director Dr. J. Thomas Cousins said that no information regarding any individual's use of the Counseling Center's services may be divulged, except in certain situations.
Consequently, in cases involving only general abuse or broad, imprecise threats of violence, the Counseling Center does not have the authority to take preemptive action.
In order for them to take action, the danger, Cousins said, "has to be clear, and it has to be imminent." He acknowledged that the threat of danger must be specific and explicit, but declined to comment on the specifics of Sahko's situation.
Cousins said that if action beyond the legal capacity of the Counseling Center is considered necessary, a direct appeal to the police would be appropriate.
"We would encourage people to contact the police if they feel they are unsafe," he said.
Muscari echoed that recommendation.
"If there's an issue where somebody else feels threatened, you really should be calling the police. Let them be the ones to decide," she said. "They're the ones who can act on it."
She also made suggestions for how to distinguish between real threats and perceived ones.
Potentially violent people will often give indications or warnings that they are going to do something.
"Usually if somebody's just angry or blowing off steam it's a general kind of thing," she said.
But, there is a difference, Muscari said, "If somebody's threatening and there's a specific target in mind."
She also said that in many cases there is a significant event that occurs to lead to the act of violence.
Disheartening events such as the end of a relationship, a major failure in work or studies, or a new state of financial hardship can trigger a violent response, she said.
Before the alleged stabbing, Sakho reported that Al-Zahrani had complained of financial difficulties.
The director of BU's Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture (PIC) program, Joshua Price, said that Al-Zahrani approached him seeking financial aid through the PIC program.
According to a report in The New York Times, the University recently denied Al-Zahrani's request for additional financial aid.
Price said that Al-Zahrani made no mention of his relationship to Professor Antoun.