Four Boston College students studying abroad were outside a Marseille train station at the end of a weekend getaway to the southern French city when a woman whom police described as “disturbed” sprayed acid at their faces, according to a spokesman for the college.
After the late Sunday morning attack at Saint Charles train station, the women were treated for burns at a local hospital and released, according to Jack Dunn, the spokesman for Boston College. One student plans to visit an eye doctor on Monday, he said.
The women in the Marseille attack, all juniors at BC, were identified as Courtney Siverling, Charlotte Kaufman, and Michelle Krug, who are enrolled in the college’s Paris program, and Kelsey Kosten, a student at the Copenhagen Business School.
“It was dramatic what happened, but all four have been released, and we have to infer from that [outcome that it is] good news,” Dunn said. He said all four had been hurt in the attack, but it appeared that the students had been fortunate to escape what could have been very serious injuries.
Kosten’s father, Phillip, told a reporter during a brief interview at the door of his Winchester home Sunday evening that he had spoken to his daughter multiple times throughout the day.
“She’s fine, we’re fine, and that’s all we have to say,” said Phillip Kosten, who asked for privacy for his family.
He appeared to have a tear under his right eye as he spoke.
The women planned to spend Sunday night in Marseille and return to Paris Monday, Dunn said.
French officials said Sunday that they did not believe the 41-year-old woman arrested in the assault was motivated by extremist views.
The suspect has “a psychiatric history,” a spokeswoman for the police prefecture in Marseille told The New York Times. “For now, nothing suggests that this was a terrorist attack.”
Dunn said the woman’s motive remains a mystery. “We don’t know the ‘why’ behind it . . . unfortunately we haven’t been able to gather any more than what we shared.”
On the BC campus Sunday afternoon, students expressed shock and horror at the attack, which The New York Times said was carried out with hydrochloric acid.
Sophomore Savannah Freitas, 18, attends Antioch Community Church in Brighton with Siverling. The international studies major said she last saw Siverling the first week of September, at a church-related event.
“It made me really, really sick to my stomach,” Freitas said of the attack. “I called her roommate from last year, and she let me know that everything’s OK.”
Later, Freitas said, Siverling posted on Facebook, saying she would pray for her attacker. Freitas said she believes Siverling has a strength that could help the other students in the coming weeks.
“I feel like she’s a good, stable person, so she can be that for them,” Freitas said.
Priya Atiyeh, 22, is a senior political science and marketing major at BC. She said she participated in a freshman service program with Kosten.
The two don’t speak frequently, Atiyeh said, but after she heard of the attack, she reached out to Kosten.
“I found out recently and just wanted to check on her, see if she was OK,” Atiyeh said. “I was just abroad, actually, studying in the spring.”
Kenny Vallace, 20, a junior finance major, and Anna Mucci, 20, a junior psychology major, both met Krug in PULSE, a service-learning program at Boston College. They did not know the extent of Krug’s injuries, but both are traveling to Italy to study abroad next semester, so the attack resonated with them, they said.
“It’s pretty alarming, honestly, that that could happen,” Mucci said. “It’s crazy that they’re Boston College students that we all know.”
BC French professor Stephen Bold said he “was lucky to have both Charlotte Kaufman and Courtney Siverling in my class last year.”
“I felt their excitement about studying in France and am crushed to hear that their experience has begun so horribly,” Bold said.
Dunn said study abroad is common for BC students, and a dozen students from the college are in France this semester.
“Fifty percent of Boston College students study abroad. It’s always been an integral part of our education,” said Dunn.
He said Kosten had met the other three students in Paris on Friday and traveled with them to Marseille. The four had planned to return to Paris by train Sunday morning, he said, and were just outside the station when the assault occurred.
Dunn said staff from BC’s Office of International Programs had spoken “with all four students and offered to provide any assistance.” The US Embassy in France has also been helpful, he added.
A spokeswoman for the State Department issued a brief statement acknowledging the incident and referred further questions to French authorities.