Lehigh University Chemistry Student Charged After Slipping Rat Poison Chemical Into Black Roommate’s Food, Beverages

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A former Lehigh University student is facing attempted murder charges after slipping deadly chemicals into his roommate’s food and beverages, Pennsylvania authorities said Thursday.

Yukai Yang, a 22-year-old chemistry major, is accused of poisoning his longtime roommate, Juwan Royal, who is African-American, with small amounts of the colorless, odorless rat poison ingredient thallium, and possibly other chemicals. Northampton County prosecutors said the discovery was a “bizarre” twist in a months-long investigation into Yang, who was already accused of scrawling racist graffiti on his roommate’s belongings.

Yukai Yang
Yukai Yang, 22, reportedly admitted to purchasing the chemicals but told investigators he intended to use them on himself in case he did poorly on his exams. (Image courtesy of the Northampton County Prison)

Before then, Royal said he believed he and Yang had had an amicable relationship for years. It seems that wasn’t the case.

“Mr. Royal was as dumbfounded by this as anyone else,” Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis said to The Morning Call. “He believed they had a fairly cordial relationship as roommates.”

Things took a turn, however, when the China native was arrested on charges of ethnic intimidation and vandalism in April after allegedly scribbling “GET OUT OF HERE” and a racial slur in black marker on Royal’s desk. Yang was also accused of trashing his suite mate’s TV and bed.

In the months leading up, prosecutors now believe Yang was slipping the heavy metal thallium into Royal’s food and drink, which were stored in the refrigerator they shared. On one occasion back in February, police said Royal recalled drinking from a water bottle and feeling a slight burning sensation on his tongue that left it sore for days.

On at least two occasions the following month, Royal was vomiting so severely he had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment, the newspaper reported. There, testing ultimately revealed that Royal’s blood contained dangerously high levels of thallium. His symptoms also matched those of thallium poisoning, which include severe burning and numbness, as well as pain in the lower extremities.

“The victim is still experiencing physical symptoms from the poisoning that occurred, so this is something that has had some lasting impact,” Morganelli said of Royal, who graduated from Lehigh University last spring and is still undergoing intensive treatment.

In May, Yang admitted to buying the chemicals and mixing them into food and drinks stored in the shared refrigerator but told investigators he intended to use them on himself “if he did poorly on his exams,” the Morning Call reported. Those statements contradicted what the international student initially told authorities at the time of Royal’s sickening, saying he suspected “someone” had been tampering with items in the dorm.

Yang turned himself into Lehigh University authorities on Thursday and is now facing charges that include aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment. He’s currently being held on $200,000 bond.

A university spokeswoman confirmed Yang, who was set to graduate in May, is no longer a student at the school, adding that the university is fully cooperating with the investigation.

“From the outset, our concern has been the health and safety of the victim of these alleged behaviors and, as such, Lehigh staff and faculty have been providing support, services and assistance,” spokeswoman Lori Friedman said.

A motive for the poisoning remains unclear.

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