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John Hopkins Student Dies at Friend's Hands over Republican Club Election

By Charles Babington
The Washington Post

Robert J. Harwood Jr. appeared so determined to prevent his former friend from becoming chairman of their College Republicans chapter, Baltimore police said Thursday, that he drove from Rhode Island and arrived at Johns Hopkins University with two things in his jacket: a flier attacking the candidate, and a .357-caliber handgun.

Moments after Rex T. Chao, 19, was elected chairman Wednesday night, Harwood followed him outside the library building, fatally shot him in the head and then fired another bullet into his chest as Chao's female friend watched helplessly, police said. Harwood, 22, a chemistry major who dreamed of law school and a political career, is in jail, charged with first-degree murder.

Hopkins students and employees, meanwhile, are reeling from the shooting that has left numerous unanswered questions and a bloody splotch on a walkway of their normally placid campus.

While much of the Hopkins community closed ranks Thursday, offering little information about what happened before and during the Republican club meeting, one thing is clear: Something went horribly wrong in the friendship between Chao and Harwood, both of whom had promising futures and cadres of friends who described them as bright, gentle, and kind.

Harwood, a former chairman of the College Republicans, had earned enough credits for graduation by December and was living in Rhode Island while he waited to graduate with the rest of his class in May.

Hopkins spokesmen said Chao apparently had tried to break off his friendship with Harwood late last year, and both Chao and Harwood had complained to university officials of problems involving "personal communications." A university spokesman told the Associated Press that Harwood had agreed to notify officials when he entered the campus and had done so before the election.

At a news conference Thursday, Larry Benedict, the university's dean of student affairs for the Homewood campus, would not comment on whether campus officers had brokered an agreement for Harwood to stay away unless they were notified, but he said he knew of no threats of physical harm involving Harwood or Chao. Officials of Hopkins, a prestigious private university, said they knew of no previous incident involving a student-on-student slaying on the campus. "This is one of the most terrible occurrences in the history of this university," interim President Daniel Nathans said. "There is much we do not know yet."

Chao's father, Robert Chao, told the AP that Harwood began making harassing phone calls and sending his son obscene e-mail after Chao tried to end the friendship because of Harwood's possessiveness.

The quarrel that preceded the shooting seemed almost as ironic as it was tragic. According to students, Benedict said, Chao was uncontested for the chairmanship that Harwood wanted so badly to deny him.