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A Small Town Seeks Answers After Beloved College Student’s Beating Death Outside Pizzeria

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University of Wisconsin-Stout/Facebook

Police in Menomonie, Wisconsin, are still searching for a motive or suspect in the fatal beating this week of a Saudi Arabian college student, which has shaken his community.

Hussain Saeed Alnahdi — the “nicest guy,” friends say, and one of dozens of Saudi-born students on campus — had been out with friends about 2 a.m. Sunday when he was attacked outside a pizza restaurant, authorities say.

He was rushed to the hospital in nearby Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he died on Monday.

But who killed the 24-year-old student who was studying English and business administration at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and who one former teacher described as “very popular, very well liked”?

As of Friday morning, no one has been charged in the attack, and there is no known motive.

Police haven’t even released a comprehensive description of the person or persons responsible for the crime. In an email to The New York Times, police commander Todd Swartz said that witnesses described a “6-foot-tall white man” as a possible suspect.

An Unclear Motive: ‘People Who Knew Him Loved Him’

The University of Wisconsin-Stout is a 9,600-member campus with about 150 Saudi-born students, many of whom were reportedly drawn to the school for its organic reputation as a welcoming environment. Alnahdi himself reportedly immigrated from Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, and was Muslim.

Police are unsure whether he was targeted for his nationality or religion.

“The motivation of the offender is unknown at this time,” Swartz told NBC News. “It can’t be confirmed at this time whether this was a hate crime.”

Though the FBI is not involved, the State Department said it is in touch with the Saudi Embassy, according to NBC.

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Marisa Wojcik/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP
Marisa Wojcik/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP

Alnahdi’s friends are baffled. “He didn’t have any enemies that I know of,” classmate Kara Ellis tells PEOPLE. “He was just the nicest guy. Very quiet. I never saw him get in trouble with anyone.

“I don’t know what happened, and I don’t want to speculate, but I think that this was random, because people who knew him loved him.” (Alnahdi’s family, who reportedly lives outside the U.S., could not be reached by PEOPLE.)

Alnahdi’s roommate, and one of his closest friends, said he “always had a smile on his face and made an effort to put a smile on the face of others,” according to NBC.

The university’s chancellor, Bob Meyer, released a statement pledging cooperation with law enforcement and offering condolences to those who knew Alnahdi.

“Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to Hussain’s family in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, and his friends at UW-Stout,” Meyer said.

While friends come to terms with Alnahdi’s sudden death, authorities continue to investigate. The city of Menomonie has offered a reward of $20,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the case.

“The first feeling I had was embarrassment for the town,” one longtime resident and former university teacher told NBC News. “Menomonie is not this kind of place, and I can’t imagine this would happen here. We are all still in shock, and our hearts are heavy.”

And a local coffee shop manager said, according to NBC, “The visceral reaction is that this is not us. It makes you think, ‘Is this who we really are, and who we want to be?’ And I hope for most of us the answer is, ‘No.’ ”

In his statement, Chancellor Meyer urged witnesses to come forward.

“If you or anyone you know has any shred of information about what happened shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday in front of Topper’s Pizza, please call Menomonie police investigator Kelly Pollock at 715-231-8511,” he said. “Anonymous information can be submitted at 855-847-3866 or at Crime Stoppers.”