POTSDAM — A village police officer has been placed on administrative leave following the fatal shooting of a Clarkson graduate student after he was found stabbing a classmate in his apartment.
When officers Matthew A. Seymour and Clinton Perrigo arrived at 401 Swan St. in the Swan Landing Apartments at 2:45 p.m. Thursday in response to a report of a domestic assault, they found 31-year-old Ma Tian on top of 25-year-old Jiang Yazhen, stabbing her and himself.
Village Police Chief Kevin M. Bates said Ma refused to obey the officers’ commands to drop the knife.
“They had their weapons drawn and asked the assailant several times to drop the knife and he did not comply,” Mr. Bates said. “Officer Seymour shot four times, killing Ma on the spot.”
Officer Seymour, an 11-year veteran of the village police, fired four shots from his .45-caliber Glock 21 service pistol. No shots were fired by Officer Perrigo, an eight-year veteran of the police department.
“Basically as police officers, we are taught to shoot until the aggressive action stops,” Chief Bates said. “Once the assailant was shot, the officers pulled him off of the female and handcuffed him.”
Mr. Seymour is also a basic emergency medical technician and one of two firearms instructors with the village police, Mr. Bates said.
“Officer Seymour began rendering aid to the female,” Mr. Bates said. “She was still alive at that time.”
Ms. Jiang was then taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Mr. Bates said it has not been determined how may times Ma stabbed Ms. Jiang. The motive remains under investigation.
Autopsies of Ma and Ms. Jiang were scheduled to be performed Friday by Dr. Michael Sikirica at Albany Medical Center.
Both students were natives of mainland China and were enrolled in a doctorate program at Clarkson.
The investigation also established Ma had returned to the United States from China on Wednesday and arrived in Potsdam by bus on Thursday morning, troopers said.
Mr. Seymour is off duty for the weekend and will be placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation is concluded, Mr. Bates said.
“Once I get the report from the state police he will be placed back on active duty,” Mr. Bates said.
Both officers and Mr. Seymour’s wife have spoken with officers in the state police Employee Assistance Program and “seem to be doing very well considering the circumstances they were in,” Mr. Bates said.
Son tried to save a life
Mr. Seymour’s father, Glenn L. Seymour, said his son did everything he could to save the woman’s life on Thursday.
He described his son as a “good-hearted and community-minded” public servant who would never use deadly force unless it was warranted.
“I know Matt good enough to know that if there was any alternative, it wouldn’t have happened that way,” the elder Mr. Seymour said. “He is a good man. Not just because he’s my son, but he is genuinely very good-hearted.”
He said he has spoken to his son since the incident. While exact details of that conversation remain privileged, he said he was left with no doubt that his son tried his best to save the woman.
“He tried to save her, but it wasn’t to be,” Mr. Seymour said, his voice cracking with emotion. “There were just too many injuries, from what I understand. But he tried. He tried to save her after, but he couldn’t.”
Officer Seymour, 40, is a Potsdam native who joined the village police department in 2004. He is a member of the state’s Police Juvenile Officers Association, specializing in juvenile justice, sexual abuse investigation and animal cruelty. He is also a police instructor.
Glenn Seymour said his son’s experience as an Iraq war veteran likely helped prepare him for the incident he was involved in Thursday.
“Matt’s very prepared and very careful in the decisions he makes,” Mr. Seymour said. “I’m sure what happened wasn’t easy for him, but I know he did what he had to do. I have no doubt about that.”
He said his family has received an outpouring of support.
Potsdam Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis called the incident tragic and expressed his pride in the police department.
“It is clear that they have a very difficult job and yesterday was an example where a job that could be routine suddenly becomes very difficult,” Mr. Yurgartis said. “It is a tragic situation, I think, in many ways. The village is going though proper procedures to investigate the shooting and make sure the shooting was done properly and we are going to await that report before taking any action.”
Mr. Seymour has agreed to testify before a grand jury that will review the shooting to make sure it was in either self-defense or in protection of a third party, Mr. Bates said. The presentation before a grand jury is standard procedure, he added.
Grand Jury will weigh in
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain, who also responded to the scene of the incident Thursday, did not return requests for comment Friday.
In a news release Friday, Ms. Rain said the two students were heard by two men outside of Ma’s apartment to be yelling and screaming.
“The two men were a father and son who ran to her aid at Ma’s apartment,” Ms. Rain said in her statement. “Hearing the urgency of the screaming they entered the apartment to offer assistance when they encountered Ma stabbing Yazhen with a knife.”
Ms. Rain said after unsuccessfully attempting to get Ma away from Ms. Jiang they left the apartment and contacted the police.
“The District Attorney’s Office will present the findings of the NYSP and the medical examiner’s office investigation for an independent review of the shooting to provide transparency to the public that the officer’s actions were justifiable,” Ms. Rain wrote. “Officer Seymour and Officer Perrigo fully cooperated with the investigation in this matter.”
Clarkson responded to the deaths of the two students with a mention during the university’s 9/11 ceremony Friday morning.
Speaking on behalf of the college, Clarkson President Anthony G. Collins told those on campus for the ceremony that “the fragility of life is utmost in our minds.”
“Our hearts and thoughts are with their families under very difficult circumstances,” he continued. “Certainly today is a very, very somber day for us.”
Clarkson spokesman Michael P. Griffin issued a prepared statement saying, “Clarkson University mourns two graduate students from China today who were involved in an incident on Thursday afternoon in an off-campus apartment in the Village of Potsdam that resulted in their death.”
According to the statement, the university’s focus has been to cooperate with investigators and to provide outreach to members of the college community grieving the loss.
Grief counseling services have been made available to Clarkson students and staff. An email sent to all Clarkson students Friday afternoon said, “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we will be working with members of the campus community and her (Ms. Jiang’s) family to plan an appropriate recognition of her life.”