Three faculty members were killed and a fourth was wounded by a gunman who opened fire on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus before dying in a shootout with police, according to university officials.
President Keith E. Whitfield said in a letter to students and staff that the Wednesday shooting in the building housing UNLV’s business school “was the most difficult day in the history of our university.”
He identified two of the victims who were killed as business school professors Patricia Navarro-Velez and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang. Whitfield said the name of the third victim will be released after relatives have been notified of the death.
The wounded man, a 38-year-old visiting professor, was downgraded to life-threatening condition Thursday, police said at a news conference.
Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and dorms as the gunman roamed UNLV’s Lee Business School on Wednesday and opened fire just before noon on the fourth floor, where faculty and staff offices for the accounting and marketing departments are located.
Navarro-Velez, 39, was an accounting professor who held a Ph.D. in accounting and was currently focused on research in cybersecurity disclosures and data analytics, according to the school’s website.
Chang, 64, was an associate professor in the business school’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology department and had been teaching at UNLV since 2001. He held degrees from Taiwan, Central Michigan University and Texas A&M University, according to his online resume. He earned a Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Pittsburgh.
Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill identified the suspect as Anthony Polito, a longtime business professor, at a news conference Thursday. McMahill said the suspect’s weapon, a .9mm handgun, was purchased legally last year. The sheriff said they were still investigating how many rounds the suspect fired in his rampage.
McMahill said they were still looking into a motive but noted that he applied for “several” jobs at various colleges and universities in Nevada and was denied the job each time.
Before the shooting, the gunman dropped off at a post office 22 letters addressed to university faculty members across the U.S., but the contents of those letters wasn’t immediately known, McMahill said.
Investigators searched an apartment in nearby Henderson, Nevada, late Wednesday as part of the investigation and retrieved several electronic devices, including Polito’s cellphone, one of the officials said.
Polito was a professor in North Carolina at East Carolina University’s Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management from 2001 to 2017, according to a statement released Thursday by the school. He resigned in January 2017 as a tenured associate professor.
One of Polito’s former students at East Carolina University, Paul Whittington, said Polito went on tangents during class about his many trips to Las Vegas. Polito told his students he visited twice yearly, staying in different hotels and going to various clubs, Whittington said.
“He was really, really, really fixated on the city of Las Vegas,” Whittington said. “I think he just really liked going there.”
Polito also seemed obsessive over anonymous student reviews at the end of each semester, Whittington said. Polito told Whittington’s class that he remembered the faces of students who gave him bad reviews and would express that he was sure who they were and where they sat, pointing at seats in the classroom, Whittington said.
“He always talked about the negative feedback he got,” said Whittington, now 33, who took Polito’s intro to operations management class in 2014. “He didn’t get a lot of it, but there would always be one student every semester, or at least one student every class, that would give a negative review. And he fixated on those.”
The attack at UNLV terrified a city that experienced the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history in October 2017, when a gunman killed 60 people and wounded more than 400 after opening fire from the window of a high-rise suite at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip, just miles from the UNLV campus.
Lessons learned from that shooting helped authorities to work “seamlessly” in reacting to the UNLV attack, Clark County Sheriff McMahill said at a news conference.
After opening fire, the gunman went to several other floors of the business school before he was killed in a shootout with two university police detectives outside the building, which is next to the university’s student union, UNLV Police Chief Adam Garcia said.
Authorities gave the all-clear about 40 minutes after the first report of an active shooter.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the school’s 30,000 students were on campus at the time, but McMahill said students had been gathered outside the building and the student union to eat and play games. If police hadn’t killed the attacker, “it could have been countless additional lives taken,” he said.
Kevaney Martin, a faculty member at UNLV’s journalism school, said she took cover under a desk in her classroom, where another faculty member and three students took shelter with her.
“It was terrifying. I can’t even begin to explain,” Martin said. “I was trying to hold it together for my students, and trying not to cry, but the emotions are something I never want to experience again.”
Martin said she was texting friends and loved ones, hoping to receive word a suspect had been detained. When another professor came to the room and told everyone to evacuate, they joined dozens of others rushing out of the building. Martin had her students pile into her car and drove them off campus.
“Once we got away from UNLV, we parked and sat in silence,” she said. “Nobody said a word. We were in utter shock.”
Student Jordan Eckermann, 25, said he was in his business law class in a second-floor classroom when he heard a loud bang and a piercing alarm went off, sending students to their feet.
Some of his classmates ran out in panic, but Eckermann said he peered outside the classroom first before leaving. He said he saw a law enforcement officer in a bulletproof vest holding a long gun, while clothing, backpacks and water bottles lay scattered on the floor.
Minutes later, when he was outside, Eckermann said he heard bursts of gunshots coming from outside the business school, totaling at least 20 rounds. The air smelled of gunpowder. He said he kept walking away from campus.
Classes were canceled through Friday at the university, and UNLV’s basketball game at the University of Dayton, Ohio, was canceled Wednesday night because of the shootings. Wrangler National Finals Rodeo also canceled the events that were scheduled Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington; Ken Ritter and W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas; Terry Tang in Phoenix; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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