She was fueled by curiosity. She studied Asian languages and took classes in four different countries. She tried her hand at stand-up and improv comedy.
Her knack for trivia dazzled. So did her ability to rouse a crowd into a singalong. Acquaintances were charmed by what they saw as an odd but engaging spirit.
Landing at medical school seemed yet another way to display her talents.
But then things turned dark for Ashley Hasti. Pitch-black dark. The kind that would leave friends and family to grieve. And question. And remember.
Her body was discovered early Thursday inside her home in a Minneapolis suburb. Hasti had been shot multiple times, according to a statement from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. A family member said a window on the split-level house had been broken.
Investigators said the 31-year-old appeared to have been dead for a couple of days. Police sources told The Times that the wounds and decomposition of the body complicated the identification process.
Hasti is believed to have been killed by her 38-year-old estranged husband, Mainak Sarkar, the former doctoral student who killed himself Wednesday after fatally shooting a UCLA professor and sending a frenzied campus into lockdown.
Beside the bodies was a note Sarkar left behind with his home address in St. Paul, Minn. That led authorities to a “kill list” that bore Hasti’s name, which led them to her body.
The couple had been dating in 2009 when Hasti was attending a post-baccalaureate pre-med program at Scripps College in Claremont. They married in 2011 and resided in Brooklyn Park, a city nestled along the west bank of the Mississippi River.
“They didn’t live together long – maybe a year,” recalled Charlane Bertsch, Hasti’s great-aunt.
Bertsch said the couple never seemed overly committed to the marriage and that Hasti didn’t bring up her husband during conversations. Still, she didn’t recall any great disputes between the two.
“He did his thing. She did hers,” Bertsch said. Hasti, whose mother died in 2011, remained close with her father and sister.
When Hasti began medical school, “her heart was happy,” Bertsch said. She described her grand-niece as amusing and kind, at ease with many. During family reunions, Hasti was known to sing and entertain.
"We'll miss her very much,” Bertsch said.
Hasti’s sister, Alex, took to Facebook to pay tribute. Hasti, she wrote, had been the coolest. The smartest. The funniest. The bravest.
“I always looked up to her because she did everything I wanted to do, but was too shy to even try.”
Among Hasti’s endeavors was overcoming stage fright at the Brave New Workshop, a comedy theater in Minneapolis where she took classes.
“She was so friendly and loved by everyone for her positive outlook and somewhat oddball personality,” said Erin Anderson, who performed with Hasti. “She was just so curious about everything and hungry to learn.”
Anderson said Hasti had been excited for Sarkar to move into her home because they had lived apart for a while. Neighbors recalled seeing Sarkar around the house but didn’t have much interaction with him.
Hasti posted photos of herself with Sarkar in a May 2011 Facebook album titled “Last Days in LA.” Several of the pictures were taken at UCLA; one shows a photo of the Engineering 4 building where Sarkar shot his former mentor. She and Sarkar married the following month.
In 2012, Hasti enrolled at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She spoke openly to friends about her love for medicine and the medical school experience.
“Second year med school is great and all, but I keep having dreams where I’m being diagnosed in the doctor’s office with the disease I’m studying,” she wrote on Facebook in September 2013.
At some point and for reasons that are unclear, the couple parted ways. Sarkar began living in a small, three-story apartment building in St. Paul. He worked remotely as an engineering analyst for an Ohio-based rubber company.
News of the deaths made tenants uneasy.
“It was scary for a lot of people, that someone like that would kill,” Todd Sorenson, 49, said. “We’re regular folk around here.”
Detectives believe that after Sarkar killed Hasti, he drove to Los Angeles to carry out his plan to shoot professor William Klug. Sarkar’s gray, 2003 Nissan Sentra was discovered Friday afternoon in Culver City.
LAPD Capt. William Hayes said late Friday that police found a handgun in the trunk, and that shell casings from the UCLA shooting appeared to match those found at the Minnesota shooting scene.
In recent months, Sarkar had lashed out on his blog at the professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Police said there was little merit to a claim that Klug had stolen Sarkar’s computer code and given it to someone else.
Armed with two semiautomatic guns, additional magazines and a backpack, Sarkar stormed into Klug’s fourth-floor office in Engineering Building 4 and fired multiple shots at the 39-year-old father of two. Then he turned the gun on himself.
The final person on Sarkar’s “kill list” was a UCLA professor who is safe.
Before he earned degrees at UCLA and Stanford, Sarkar had attended high school in Durgapur, a steel-producing city in eastern India. He attended an English-language school and a teacher remembered him as a “brilliant” student, among the best in his class in the mid-1990s.
Goutam Viswas, a mathematics and chemistry teacher, was close to Sarkar, describing him as a “normal chap.”
“He was not the most outgoing, but he had his friends,” Viswas told The Times. Sarkar’s parents are deceased and he has a sister in Calcutta, he said.
After Sarkar graduated in 2000 with an aerospace engineering degree from the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology at Kharagpur, he met up with Viswas. Sarkar was deeply focused on academics and intent on doing post-graduate research in the United States.
“He wanted career advice,” Viswas said. “And I told him, ‘Keep a cool head and carry on; you have potential.’”
Viswas also told Sarkar to maintain good relationships with all of his professors. Sarkar agreed that that was a good idea.
Parvini reported from Minneapolis, Bengali from Mumbai, India, and Rocha and Winton from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Corina Knoll and Kate Mather contributed to this report.