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Police: UNLV gunman was unemployed professor with target list

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  • Video by Associated Press

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Las Vegas police stand near the scene of a shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Thursday, in Las Vegas. Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and dorms as a gunman roamed the floors of a campus building on Wednesday, killing several people and critically wounding another person before dying in a shootout with police.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Las Vegas police stand near the scene of a shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Thursday, in Las Vegas. Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and dorms as a gunman roamed the floors of a campus building on Wednesday, killing several people and critically wounding another person before dying in a shootout with police.

LAS VEGAS >> A 67-year-old college professor who was denied jobs at various Nevada colleges and universities stuffed loaded handgun magazines into his waistband before walking into a University of Nevada, Las Vegas building and killing three faculty members, police said.

After police killed him in a shootout, Anthony Polito was found to be carrying nine magazines for a 9 mm handgun he’d legally purchased last year and a list of targets at the school — although none of those shot was on that list, police said Thursday.

Police still had no motive for Wednesday’s attack, which also left a 38-year-old visiting professor in life-threatening condition at a hospital.

Polito arrived at UNLV at 11:28 a.m., about 15 minutes before the shooting, in a 2007 Lexus that he parked in a lot south of the business school, Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill said.

Polito got out of the car, placed items in his waistband and then entered Beam Hall, a business school building, at 11:33 a.m. The first reports of gunfire came at 11:45 a.m., McMahill said.

Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and offices as the gunman roamed the top three floors of UNLV’s five-story Lee Business School.

University and city police swarmed the building. UNLV police Chief Adam Garcia has said the first university officer arrived at the business school within 78 seconds of the gunfire report.

Near the main entrance, UNLV officers saw Polito leaving the building and he shot at them, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department statement said Thursday night. The officers fired back, killing him at the scene about 10 minutes after the first reports of shots fired.

Authorities searched Beam Hall and found two people dead on the third floor and one victim dead on the fourth floor, the statement said.

Investigators believe the wounded survivor was shot on the fifth floor, but he managed to make it to the ground floor.

Student Jordan Eckermann, who was in a second-floor classroom in the business school when the rampage began, said the timestamp on a short cellphone video he recorded showed the building’s alarm went off at 11:48 a.m., three minutes after the shooting started.

It’s unclear how many shots Polito fired, but the sheriff said Polito brought more than 150 rounds of ammunition to the campus.

Given that sheer number of rounds, McMahill said he believed Polito may have been intending to open fire on the student union next to the business school, where students were hanging out, eating and playing games.

Polito also was carrying what McMahill described as a “target list” of named faculty members both from UNLV and from East Carolina University in North Carolina, where Polito taught at the business school from 2001 to 2017.

He resigned from East Carolina as a tenured associate professor, according to a statement Thursday from the university.

“None of the individuals on the target list became a victim,” McMahill said, adding that police have contacted everyone on the list, except for one person who was on a flight.

A dash camera in Polito’s car showed that before heading to campus, he stopped at a post office in Henderson, where he was living, police said.

Police discovered that he had dropped off 22 letters to university faculty members across the U.S., some of which contained an unknown white powder that was later found to be harmless.

Police didn’t immediately disclose the nature of the letters or other details.

The sheriff said at a news conference that investigators were still looking into a motive but noted that Polito applied for several jobs at various colleges and universities in Nevada and was denied the job each time.

However, Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson said Polito had an adjunct faculty contract and taught two courses in the school’s the Master of Business Administration program from October 2018 to June 2022. He left when the program was discontinued, said Jason Roth, a spokesperson for the school.

Authorities on Thursday said Polito appeared to be struggling financially. When they arrived at his apartment Wednesday night to search the property, they found an eviction notice taped to his front door, McMahill said.

Inside, detectives found a chair with an arrow pointing down to a document “similar to a last will and testament,” McMahill said without elaborating.

Authorities identified two of the victims who were killed as business school professors Patricia Navarro-Velez and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang. The third victim, Naoko Takemaru, was an associate professor of Japanese studies whose office was on the third floor of the business building, according to the Clark County coroner’s office.

Navarro-Velez, 39, was an accounting professor who held a Ph.D. 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.

Takemaru, 69, oversaw the university’s Japanese studies program and taught upper-division courses on Japanese language, culture and business, according to the UNLV website.

The university was to remain closed today but was tentatively scheduled to reopen next week for finals.

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.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long Polito had been living in the Las Vegas area.

One of Polito’s former students at East Carolina, Paul Whittington, said Polito often talked about his regular trips to Las Vegas. He 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.”

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