CANBERRA, Australia >> A Canberra court on Saturday ordered an 18-year-old student to undergo a mental health assessment after he was charged with attacking his teacher and three of his fellow students with a baseball bat at one of Australia’s most prestigious universities.
Shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday, Alex Ophel stood up from his seat in an Australian National University classroom armed with a bat and approached the teacher, according to police. Other students in the class intervened and tried to restrain Ophel, but he assaulted four people, including the teacher. They were hospitalized with serious but non-life threatening injuries, including broken bones.
Ophel was charged in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court on Saturday with several violent offenses, including intentionally inflicting grievous bodily harm, which carries a potential maximum of 20 years in prison, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum five-year sentence.
The tall, thin student appeared pale and said nothing during his brief court appearance, wearing blue police forensic overalls, handcuffs and socks without shoes.
Ophel was not required to enter pleas before the court ordered him into the custody of a Canberra psychiatric facility to undergo a mental health assessment. The assessment will determine if he suffers any psychiatric condition that would reduce his criminal culpability for the attack. There was no date set for his next court appearance.
On Friday, Police Detective Superintendent Ben Cartwright told reporters that Ophel was not on the radar of police or intelligence agencies, and his motivation is unknown.
Max Claessens, an 18-year-old student whose friend was inside the classroom, said his friend told him that Ophel waited until the class had settled in before he suddenly pulled a bat out of his bag and began hitting people. Ophel had been a student of the statistics class for four weeks, Claessens said.
Student Jolene Laverty was on her way to a lecture when she saw Ophel being led away by police and several of the injured being treated by paramedics.
Ophel had been talking calmly to his police escorts, Laverty said.
The university’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Marni Hughes-Warrington, said she was moved by the courage shown by the students who tried to stop the attack.
The university, which is located in Australia’s capital, Canberra, said counseling services were being provided to anyone affected by the attack. Police said there was no ongoing threat to the public’s safety.