The Tulane University Law School community grasped for answers Monday as members mourned the loss of two second-year law students who died over the weekend in an apparent murder-suicide near campus — an incident as baffling as it was devastating for those who knew the gifted couple.
The alleged gunman, Wajih Mazloum, a 28-year-old Rhode Island native, had been doggedly pursuing a legal career and showed few, if any, signs of derailment, according to associates.
Mazloum fatally shot his girlfriend, Sara LaMont, a talented 25-year-old member of the Tulane Law Review, in his Willow Street apartment before turning the handgun on himself, New Orleans police said.
“It didn’t seem like he had that type of personality,” said Arthur Laugand, a New Orleans lawyer who had engaged Mazloum to conduct pro bono research for a criminal defendant charged in a sweeping indictment targeting the city’s so-called “3-N-G” gang.
Laugand described Mazloum as an enthusiastic, if overstretched, student who didn’t have time to complete the research. He had been wearing a number of different hats at the time of his death, including interning as an unpaid law clerk for the city.
“He just had too many things going to where he could actually put in some time on what we were doing,” Laugand added.
Despite his busy schedule, no one who knew Mazloum, it seems, had any idea that he was contemplating taking his life.
“The tone and tenor of what we’ve heard from those who knew these two young people was that they were really surprised at this incident,” said Dusty Porter, Tulane’s vice president for student affairs. Even Mazloum’s roommates, Porter said, told officials that they hadn’t “seen anything that would lead them to believe that this sort of behavior would have taken place.”
Porter added, “Again and again what you hear is, ‘I didn’t really see anything. We were really surprised when we heard the news.’ ”
A roommate discovered the bodies of Mazloum and LaMont about 10 a.m. Sunday inside Mazloum’s upstairs apartment at Willow and Joseph streets, police said. The authorities recovered a handgun next to Mazloum’s body — a weapon he had purchased at a recent gun show, according to a neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mazloum had lived at the residence for about two years and hadn’t shown any symptoms of stress beyond the usual rigors of law school, the neighbor said.
“I never saw him act aggressively to anybody, let alone his girlfriend,” the neighbor said. “It was a pretty big shock. I didn’t see it coming at all.”
Police did not confirm Monday that the gun had been purchased at a gun show, and local and federal authorities were still tracing the weapon. “The trace usually takes several days or so,” said Kevin Moran, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, noting that there would be no record of the transaction if Mazloum in fact bought the weapon at a gun show.
It’s unclear exactly what time the shooting occurred — the neighbor said he went to bed about 10:30 p.m. Saturday and didn’t hear any gunshots overnight — and the circumstances surrounding the murder-suicide remained even murkier.
Tyler Gamble, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said there had been “no previous history of domestic violence or calls” from the Willow Street residence.
One faculty member, who also requested anonymity, said no indications had surfaced that the couple were considering breaking up. “People are really surprised and baffled about what happened,” the faculty member said, describing a jarring lack of warning signs.
According to his public profile on LinkedIn, Mazloum served as a student attorney at the law school’s environmental clinic. As a research assistant, the profile says, he researched a lawsuit “related to the enjoining” of unspecified hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, activities.
A speaker of Arabic and French, Mazloum previously worked as an accountant and financial analyst at Schlumberger, the massive oilfield services company, in Dubai, and as an intern in the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, according to the profile.
“Wajih was a great friend to all who knew him, one who constantly made us laugh with his antics and undying love of gummy bears,” friends of the couple said in a prepared statement that was posted by the Tulane University Law School Student Bar Association.
LaMont, a native of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut, graduating in 2011 with a major in sports management. She had worked as a regional sales manager for the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Her LinkedIn profile says she also had worked as an inside sales account manager for the Brooklyn Nets when they still played in New Jersey.
In an email to students, David Meyer, the dean of the law school, described LaMont as “an enormously talented student who was well on her way to achieving her high school dream of becoming a leader in the sports industry.”
At Tulane, LaMont had served as a member of the Tulane Law Review, a post that requires either top 10 percent grades or outstanding writing skills, said Linda Campbell, the law school’s director of communications.
“Sara was a brilliant student who motivated everyone around her to work harder, while bringing smiles to our faces,” said the statement from the couple’s friends that was posted by the school’s Student Bar Association.
The murder-suicide came on the heels of at least three student suicides at Tulane last semester, a spate of deaths that has prompted university officials to try to raise awareness about mental health issues.
Porter, the vice president for student affairs, said officials remain committed to those efforts in the wake of the latest shooting, even as it remains unclear what precipitated the murder-suicide.
“Whenever there’s a loss like this, the focus is on helping the families and identifying those who are going to be most affected,” Porter said. “Whenever you have a graduate or professional student, it takes on a specific kind of feeling, because those schools tend to be smaller, almost microcosms of the larger community. A lot of the students in the law school will have known these students, as opposed to a larger undergraduate population.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 3 to clarify the source of the prepared statement posted by the Tulane University Law School Bar Association.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.