When a 24-year-old graduate student was arrested for stabbing to death a Georgetown law student last week, it shocked one of the University’s smallest programs.
Rahul Gupta, who has been accused of second-degree murder, was also a top student. He won one of GW’s most prestigious research prizes as an undergraduate and worked in a bioengineering lab for nanomedicine and tissue engineering.
He began pursuing his master’s in biomedical engineering this fall, after earning his bachelor’s degree in engineering from GW in 2012.
Gupta was arrested Sunday, Oct. 13 for allegedly killing Georgetown law student Mark Waugh – his high school friend – because he thought his girlfriend and Waugh were involved romantically behind his back. The group had gone out in D.C. to celebrate Gupta’s 24th birthday Saturday night.
Murray Loew, director of the biomedical engineering program, said he has felt a reaction of “sadness and shock” among faculty, but has heard little from students.
The program has four full-time faculty members and about 50 masters and Ph.D. students.
Gupta’s girlfriend – who was present at the time of the stabbing, according to police documents – was also enrolled in the undergraduate program, which had 165 students the year they both graduated. One other alumnus had attended birthday celebrations with the group, but had not returned to the couple’s Silver Spring apartment that night.
“It’s always distressing and unhappy when one of our students has had a big problem,” Loew said about the allegations against Gupta.
He said he expects faculty and students will discuss the incident during a regularly scheduled meeting in two weeks.
“The only thing I can say is we have great pride and interest in our students and in our graduates, and we always want the best of success for them, and when something like this happens, of course it’s very upsetting,” Loew said.
Loew said he did not know Gupta personally. Gupta’s girlfriend had been one of his undergraduate students, but they had not kept in touch after she earned her degree.
The biomedical engineering program, which falls under the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s electrical and computer engineering department, focuses on applying engineering principles to medical problems.
A former classmate told The Hatchet that Gupta was smart, hard-working and “always talked enthusiastically about what he was building” for engineering projects. He was also athletic and spent a lot of time at the gym, the classmate said.
The classmate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want his name linked to a murder case, said he last talked to Gupta a couple weeks ago, and Gupta mentioned he was interested in pursuing a Ph.D.
Charles Garris, a professor of engineering, said he has not noticed a “tremendous reaction” to news of the killing, with no professor broaching the subject at a recent faculty meeting.
“At least in my department, people are moving on and watching to see what they find,” said Garris, who teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering. “But since we didn’t know him personally, it’s hard for us to react.”
Assistant chemistry professor Susan Gillmor, who served as his mentor for the project, said Gupta was a “terrific student” in her lab, but declined to speak further.
SEAS Dean David Dolling did not make official remarks to faculty or students, but released the following statement to The Hatchet: “On behalf of the School of Engineering and Applied Science community, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved in this tragic incident.”
Gupta first appeared in court Oct. 15, when his lawyer said his client had a “valid defense,” though the Washington Post reported that he did not make a specific case. He asked the court to lower Gupta’s bail from $2 million to $50,000, but the judge refused.
The attorney, Reginald Bours III, handed the judge copies of Gupta’s resumé and transcript, pointing out that his client’s parents were in the room and had agreed to keep their son at home if the court released him. He said the Guptas were small-business owners of “middle-class means.”
After calling Bours’ office Friday, The Hatchet was told he was no longer representing Gupta. The student’s new lawyer, Philip Armstrong, did not return a request for comment.
The District Court for Montgomery County has scheduled a preliminary hearing for Gupta for Nov. 8.
Calls to Gupta’s home in McLean, Va. and Waugh’s home in Great Falls, Va. were not returned. Gupta and Waugh had been friends since both attending Langley High School in McLean.
Armin Aflaki, a GW graduate public health student, was one year below Waugh and Gupta at the suburban high school of about 2,000 students. Aflaki took a sports medicine class with Waugh as a freshman in high school, where he remembers talking about their shared affinity for the Redskins.
“He was a very sociable, likable kind of guy,” said Afklaki, who also earned his bachelor’s degree from GW. “It’s a big loss. It’s really a shame.”
– Sarah Ferris contributed to this report