19 September 2023

UPDATED: Man charged with two counts of attempted murder at ANU remanded in custody

| Claire Fenwicke and Albert McKnight
police cars at ANU

ACT Policing officers on scene at the ANU yesterday. Photo: Joanne Griffiths.

UPDATED 11:30 am: The man accused of trying to murder two students at the Australian National University with a knife and attacking two more with a frypan has been remanded in custody.

Tim Sharman returned to the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday and confirmed he would represent Alex Leonard Ophel, who would not make a bail application.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston remanded the 24-year-old in custody and adjourned the matter until October for a mention of the case, as well as for an application for a forensic procedure.

He also directed that a mental health assessment report be provided to staff at the Alexander Machonocie Centre. No pleas were entered.

UPDATED 19 September, 10:45 am: The man charged with stabbing two women and attacking two men with a frypan at the Australian National University on Monday (18 September) has been formally charged in court.

Alex Leonard Ophel was handed two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault and a single count of possessing an object with the intent to cause harm when he appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday (19 September) morning.

Tim Sharman of Tim Sharman Solicitors said he was appearing as a friend of the court for Ophel and wanted some time to consider whether a bail application would be made.

He said he was not confident the 24-year-old had the capacity to provide instructions.

Prosecutor Caitlin Diggins confirmed she would oppose bail. The matter was stood down until later on Tuesday.

Earlier, at a media conference, Detective Acting Superintendent Stephanie Leonard alleged that at about 2:40 pm on Monday (18 September), a man had gone to the grounds of the ANU and attacked four students.

It is alleged he repeatedly stabbed two 20-year-old women with a knife and assaulted two men, aged 34 and 19, with a frypan.

One of the women was left with critical injuries and both are in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

“Obviously, given the nature of the attack, I understand they are very upset,” Detective Leonard said.

Alex Ophel

Alex Leonard Ophel, 24, pictured in a screenshot. Photo: YouTube.

The men didn’t need hospital treatment, she said.

“A number of members of the public assisted police following the incident,” the detective said.

Ophel was arrested on university grounds soon after the incident.

Detective Leonard said she was unable to comment on his mental health status, but it was currently the subject of an investigation. She confirmed he had had prior interactions with police.

“Obviously, any violent offence is concerning. ANU and Canberra are usually very safe places,” Detective Leonard said.

“We’ve been unable to establish a motive at this time.

“The man’s movements and how he came to be at ANU are currently the subject to an investigation.”

Detective Acting Superintendent Stephanie Leonard addresses the media about the ANU stabbing

Detective Acting Superintendent Stephanie Leonard addresses the media about the ANU stabbing. Photo: Albert McKnight.

10:30 am: A 24-year-old man has been charged with two counts of attempted murder and other offences following the alleged incident at the ANU campus yesterday.

The suspect, who has been widely named by media as Alex Ophel, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault and one count of possessing an object to be used to kill.

Ophel was charged four years ago with attempted murder after a terrifying incident at the ANU where he attacked victims with a baseball bat.

Following two trials, he was found not guilty by reason of mental impairment after the court heard evidence he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, reported being under the control of aliens and higher beings, and had repeatedly searched online for material regarding violent attacks.

In evidence given during his trial, Ophel did not deny that on 25 August 2017 he had taken a baseball bat into his statistics tutorial room and began swinging with what was described as “violent force”. The victims sustained injuries, including skull fractures and brain injuries.

At the conclusion of the second trial, Justice John Burns told the jury Ophel could still be a danger to the public and ordered him to be detained in custody for review under mental health laws. It is not clear when or how Ophel was released from custody.

Police will allege that at about 2:40 pm yesterday (18 September), the 24-year-old man initially engaged a male student by hitting him on the head with a frying pan. The student subsequently ran away from the scene.

The 24-year-old is then alleged to have stabbed a 20-year-old female student multiple times before chasing a second 20-year-old female student and stabbing her. Police say they do not believe the victims knew the offender and no motive for the attacks has been identified at this stage.

The man also allegedly approached a second male student and punched him in the face.

Two female victims were hospitalised and police say one is currently in a serious but stable condition and the other in a stable condition. The two male victims did not require hospitalisation.

UPDATED 7.05 pm: ACT Policing will not confirm the stabbing suspect currently in custody following an incident this afternoon is the same man who was charged with attempted murder over an attack on ANU students with a baseball bat in 2017.

Several national sources have named the man, but ACT Policing said they would not, as a matter of policy, identify someone in custody who had not yet been formally charged with an offence.

“We cannot legally do that”, a police spokesman said. “Other people naming [the person] obviously feel confident with their information but this person does not, as yet, face charges”.

Police confirmed earlier today that two women had been taken to hospital with stab wound. One is in critical condition and the other is stable. A third person received minor injuries in the attack but did not require hospitalisation.

Police remain at the campus and students have been asked to avoid the area around Fellows Oval and Chifley Meadow.

6:10 pm: ACT Policing have issued a statement regarding the incident on the Australian National University (ANU) Acton campus today.

“Two 20-year-old female students have been transported to hospital, one in a critical condition and one in a stable condition, after a stabbing incident at Australian National University this afternoon,” the statement said.

“About 2.45pm today (Monday 18 September 2023) ACT Policing and ACT Ambulance Service paramedics were called to the University following reports of a stabbing incident.

“A 34 year-old male was also assaulted and received minor injuries and did not require transportation to hospital.

“A 24-year-old male, who is not believed to be a student of the university, is in police custody. He has not been charged at this time. No other people are being sought by police.

“No specific motive for the incident has been identified.”

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Australian National University (ANU) Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt has also issued a statement.

“I want to let you know about an incident that occurred on our campus earlier today,” he said.

“Let me start by assuring everyone the situation is under control. One person is now in custody in connection with this incident.

“Three people were injured and taken to hospital and our thoughts are with their friends and families.

“I request you continue to stay away from Fellows Oval and Chifley Meadow as they remain an active scene of investigation.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the swift and efficient response from ACT Policing, ACT Ambulance Service and our own ANU Security team.

“I understand this incident may have caused distress among members of our community and I want to remind you that support is available. In times like these, it is essential we support one another and stay connected as a community.

“For our staff, please do not hesitate to utilise the Employee Assistance Program by calling 1800 808 374 for support and counselling.

Our students can seek support through the ANU Crisis Support Line at 1300 050 327 or via SMS Text message service at 0488 884 170.

“Your safety and wellbeing remain our top priority and we will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available.”

3:50 pm: A person is in police custody and part of the Australian National University’s (ANU) campus cordoned off following reports of a stabbing on campus.

An ACT Policing statement said two people had been taken to hospital with stab wounds, along with a third person who was allegedly assaulted.

“ACT Policing and ACT Ambulance Service were called to ANU following reports of a stabbing incident at about 2:45 pm this afternoon,” they said.

“One person is in custody in relation to this matter and no other people are being sought by police.”

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An alert was sent to staff and students via the university’s security app, stating there had been an “isolated incident”.

“Police are at the scene and an individual is in custody,” the alert said.

“Please stay away from Fellows Oval … there is no threat to the community.”

The oval is near the Chifley Library.

One witness said they heard “panicked yelling” before police arrived on scene.

ANU staff and students were directed to various counselling services for support if they had been “distressed” by the incident.

An Emergency Services Agency spokesperson confirmed ACT Ambulance Service paramedics had been called to the university but could not provide any more information, citing privacy reasons.

Any witnesses who have not already spoken to police are asked to attend City Police Station where ACT Policing representatives will be able to assist or contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, referencing P219341.

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