Las Vegas campus gunman described as struggling academic with 'target list'


  • World
  • Friday, 08 Dec 2023

Law enforcement officers head into UNLV campus after reports of an active shooter in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. December 6, 2023. Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via REUTERS

(Reuters) -The gunman who killed three professors and wounded one at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was a financially struggling academic whose job applications were rejected by several higher-education institutions in Nevada, police said on Thursday.

Anthony James Polito, 67, also had mailed nearly two dozen suspicious letters to faculty at universities across the country and had prepared a "target list" of people at both UNLV and a North Carolina university where he once worked, police said.

Polito, facing eviction from his home in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, had a criminal record of computer trespass dating to 1992 in Virginia, but police said there were no advance signs of violence.

The Taurus 9mm handgun he used in the shooting was legally purchased in 2022, according to Sheriff Kevin McMahill of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He said Polito, who police shot dead after the attacks, was believed to have acted alone.

The precise motive for the rampage remained to be determined, though officials said it appeared students were not the primary target.

All four people shot on Wednesday inside Beam Hall, the campus building that houses UNLV's business school, were faculty members.

Two of the dead were identified as professor Cha Jan "Jerry" Chang, 64, and assistant professor Patricia Navarro Velez, 39. The identity of the third slain professor was being withheld pending notification of family.

The surviving victim remained hospitalized, and his condition worsened on Thursday, McMahill said.

LETTERS AND LIST

Detectives learned Polito had visited a post office shortly before the shooting and mailed 22 letters with no return address to university personnel across the United States, and had a list of people he was seeking on the UNLV campus as well as faculty from his former employer, East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

His LinkedIn profile described Polito as a semi-retired associate professor of business who taught at East Carolina from 2001-2017.

Authorities intercepted the letters before any were delivered and found a suspicious white powdery substance in at least one of them, McMahill said at a news briefing on Thursday.

The letters' contents remained under investigation, the sheriff told reporters, warning that anyone in higher education who received such an envelope should exercise caution and contact authorities.

He said officials were working to notify the intended recipients and had contacted nearly everyone on the separate target list to make sure all were safe.

"None of the individuals listed on the target list became a victim," he told reporters.

He said detectives also had uncovered evidence that Polito was struggling financially, including an eviction notice taped to the entrance of his apartment. He said a document that appeared to be a will was found inside.

"We know he had applied numerous times for jobs with several Nevada higher-education institutions," McMahill added, but he did not say whether UNLV was one of them.

Police searching Polito's home also recovered ammunition similar to the 150 rounds he was carrying.

The UNLV campus will remain closed through Friday. The UNLV website said classes had been canceled through Dec. 10.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Long Beach, California and Julia Harte in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis)

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