Widgets Magazine

Former graduate student pleads no contest to spiking labmates’ water

Former graduate student Xiangyu Ouyang pleaded no contest to four charges of poisoning on Tuesday, Dec. 8 after spiking her labmates’ water with paraformaldehyde last year. She now faces up to one year in Santa Clara County Jail, but attorneys for prosecution and defense said they are looking into alternative sentences, such as treatment options on account of mental health concerns.

Stanford officials first reported Ouyang to the police when two victims reported a burning sensation in their throats last November after drinking from their water bottles — a side-effect of ingesting paraformaldehyde. The court later found that Ouyang had also destroyed a classmate’s mouse stem cells.

Ouyang told police that she acted while in a “psychologically unstable, depressed, stressed and very dizzy” state. She had also put the chemical in her own water as well and drank from it.

“It was me crying out for help, and I didn’t know,” Ouyang said of the case, as she spoke to police last November.

She was reportedly prescribed antidepressants but stopped taking them prior to the incidents because they worsened her headaches.

University officials first banned her from campus that month and subsequently expelled her. According to one of her labmates, the international student from Singapore called Stanford “a paradise,” reported Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times in April. Ouyang has since lost her student visa as well.

Ahead of the sentence, deputy district attorney Anne Seery remained ambivalent about Ouyang’s case.

“This was clearly an unusual case,” Seery said to the San Jose Mercury News. ”It’s one of those situations where I still don’t know the motive, and I don’t know if we ever will, but her actions could have put some people’s lives in serious danger.”

In an email to the press, Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin stressed again that the University took action on the case quickly by calling the police. No AlertSU or notification was issued last November because Ouyang was no longer on campus at the time when the investigation began, Lapin told The Daily in March.

“For all concerned, we are appreciative that the judicial process is concluding and that everyone involved can move beyond this distressing episode,” Lapin added.

Ouyang will receive her sentence during the next court hearing on Jan. 15.


Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Fangzhou Liu

Fangzhou Liu ’19 is an editor majoring in computer science and linguistics. Raised in Singapore, she still shares her compatriots’ interests in street food and freebies and your dad’s taste in music. Contact Fang with questions and job leads at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.