A senseless act of violence claimed the life of University of Utah student ChenWei Guo last Monday, devastating those who knew him as well as the broader campus community.
ChenWei, 23, was fatally shot by a 24-year-old man police described as a “drifter” in a failed carjacking near the gate of Red Butte Canyon at approximately 9 p.m. Monday evening, Oct. 30. A second U student who was with ChenWei managed to escape. Law officers from across the Salt Lake Valley responded to the U campus to search for the suspect, later identified as Austin J. Boutain. He was arrested the next day after being spotted by a librarian at the Salt Lake Main Library and faces multiple criminal charges.
Boutain and his wife Kathleen had apparently been camping in the canyon. Prior to the shooting, Kathleen Boutain made her way to the Peterson Heritage Center to report a domestic altercation with her husband.
Boutain and his wife, who also is in custody, are considered persons of interest in a homicide in Golden, Colorado.
“This senseless act of violence has shaken our community and ended the life of a dear son, true friend and promising scholar,” U President David W. Pershing said. “By all accounts, ChenWei was a wonderful young man, and we mourn his death.”
Pershing canceled classes on Tuesday out of respect for ChenWei. The president also directed that flags at the university be flown at half-staff until sunset on Friday.
Two different vigils were held to honor ChenWei last week; one organized by the Associated Students of the University of Utah and another by the Asian American Student Association.
Speakers at the vigils recalled ChenWei’s remarkable and positive character, echoing words used by all who knew him.
Monica Chih-Ling Chen of Salt Lake City met ChenWei through a mutual friend; he later worked for Chen’s mother doing church-related genealogy. Monica Chen said ChenWei “spread happiness and camaraderie and goodness everywhere he went. He was a true, tremendous blessing to everyone he came in contact with.”
ChenWei’s friends set up a GoFundMe page, which was initially intended to raise money to help his family with expenses. But ChenWei’s mother has requested that the donations be used to create a charitable fund in her only child’s name to help others, just as he hoped to do one day.
“Words cannot describe the pain, confusion, sorrow and grief that come as a result of this,” said Elena Jin, who started the fund and is a close friend of ChenWei and his family. “ChenWei was most characterized by his selfless service, faith-filled lifestyle and undefeatable positive attitude.”
ChenWei was born in Beijing, China, and came to the U.S. in 2012. He graduated from Timpview High School in Provo, Utah, and then served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo. ChenWei transferred to the U from LDS Business College this fall. He was studying computer science and entrepreneurship and worked as a peer advisor in the U’s International Student and Scholar Services Office.
In a bio written for his job, ChenWei described himself as an adventurous person who liked activities such as skydiving, skiing, horseback riding, dancing, modern fashion and “French bulldogs!” He hoped to open a consulting business to “help more people feel good about themselves.”
The campus was placed on lockdown Monday evening as law enforcement officers from at least nine different agencies responded to help locate Boutain. Approximately 170 students were sheltered at the Marriott Library until officers determined they could returned to their residential halls.
“We want to thank our University Department of Public Safety, Salt Lake City Police, and all the other law enforcement agencies that responded quickly Monday night and worked so well together to solve this crime,” Pershing said. “Staff members across campus also reacted with compassion and professionalism and we appreciate everything they did to assist our students and law enforcement.”