In Brief

Art Basel Miami Beach Stabber Was Motivated by Irrational Fear of ISIS

Siyuan Zhao in court on Thursday, April 14 (screenshot via WPLG)
Siyuan Zhao ain court on Thursday, April 14 (screenshot of video via WPLG)

The woman who stabbed a fairgoer at Art Basel Miami Beach last year has been deported to her native China and will not be able to return to the US again. As the Miami Herald reported, the 24-year-old Siyuan Zhao pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted murder, which she claims was motivated by her fear of an ISIS attack at the art fair. She boarded a plane to leave the country last night.

Zhao, then a student in New York City, had attacked her victim, Shin Seo Young, with an X-Acto knife in the fair’s Nova sector. The sudden incident left Young with non-life threatening wounds — and some art patrons reputedly thought it was an act of performance art. The police report had noted that while being arrested, Zhao had said, “I had to kill her and two more,” and “I had to watch her bleed.”

A photograph of the Sunday, December 6 incident that was provided to Hyperallergic by a reader at Art Basel Miami Beach. (anonymous reader and used with permission)
A photograph of the Sunday, December 6, incident that was provided to Hyperallergic by a reader at Art Basel Miami Beach (photo by anonymous reader)

According to the Miami Herald, Zhao, who has since undergone months of mental health treatment, has a long history battling mental illness and has attempted suicide. Her psychiatrist said the Chinese national had heard voices in her head while at the fair and felt she had to protect the event from an ISIS attack; she apparently singled out Young because she believed the 33-year-old was an undercover agent for the terrorist group.

“She was very psychotic,” Dr. Ilan Melnick testified during the trial in Miami. “She felt ISIS was going to be at Art Basel to destroy the art.”

While in treatment at Miami’s Passageway Mental Health Center after posting bail, Zhao had also tried to kill an emotional support bird and vandalized a doctor’s car. According to her defense lawyers, therapy and medication has improved her health greatly and now feels remorse for her actions, but she will continue to receive treatment in China.

“Her family has paid for her treatment, and will continue to pay for her treatment,” her lawyer Mark Shapiro said. “She will not pose a danger to anyone in the United States because she will be living in China with no hope of returning.”

If she had been deemed not guilty due to her mental state, Zhao would have remained in the charge of doctors in the Sunshine State — paid for, as the Miami Herald notes, by taxpayers.
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