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A career professor gunman, three killed and a campus in fear: What we know about the UNLV shooting

Law enforcement at the campus  (AP)
Law enforcement at the campus (AP)

A shooting on a college campus in Las Vegas on Wednesday has left three people dead and another seriously injured.

The suspect, who has now been publicly identified by police was killed during a shoot-out with officers shortly after the attack began.

Although authorities later reassured the commmuntity that there was “no further threat”, many questions still remain, largely to do with the shooter and his motive.

Here’s what we know so far:

What happened?

The University of Nevada shooting unfolded at around 11.45am on Wednesday morning when gunfire rung out from Beam Hall, where the college’s Lee Business School is located.

UNLV Police Chief Adam Garcia told CNN that the gunman – a professor who had tried unsuccessfully to get a job at the school – opened fire on the fourth floor of the building before moving through several other floors.

An “active shooter” alert was sent to students, staff and faculty, while on- and off-duty police officers rushed to the location.

Two university police detectives then encountered the shooter outside of Beam Hall and a shootout unfolded.

The gunman was shot dead in the exchange of gunfire.

Three victims – two of whom have been named – were killed in the shooting while a fourth was hospitalised and is now in stable condition.

The active shooter alert was lifted and an all-clear given around 40 minutes after the first reports of gunfire.

At a press conference shortly afterwards, sheriff Kevin McMahill said there was “no further threat” to the community.

The suspect was said to be dead at the scene (Las Vegas Sun)
The suspect was said to be dead at the scene (Las Vegas Sun)

The campus is located less than two miles east of the Las Vegas Strip. It was there in October 2017 that 60 people were killed after a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd gathered near the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

The 2017 incident was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in US history.

How many victims?

A post on X/Twitter from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that three victims had been killed during the shooting on Wednesday.

The force said that an additional victim was also at a local hospital “in critical condition”. Their condition was later upgraded to “stable”. All four were faculty members at UNLV.

The suspect in the incident is also deceased, according to police.

On Thursday, two of the victims were named as professor Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, and assistant professor Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39.

Dr Chang was a longtime educator of management information systems, who had spent more than 20 years of his academic career teaching a generation of UNLV Lee Business School students, said college president Kevin Whitfield.

Dr Navarro-Velez was an assistant professor of accounting and had “devoted her career to educating the next generation of accountants”, Mr Whitfield said.

She joined UNLV nearly five years ago as a professor of accounting, where she primarily focused on teaching accounting information systems.

Local cheerleading gym California Allstars sent “deepest condolences” to the “Navarro family”.

“Our hearts are shattered as we share the devastating news of the loss of a beloved member of our Cali family in yesterday’s senseless shooting,” the Instagram post read. “Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to the Navarro family at this unimaginably difficult time.”

The manner of death for both victims was homicide due to a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Clark County coroner.

The third deceased victim has also been identified but their name has been released publicly while the coroner’s office works to identify next of kin.

According to Mr McMahill the fourth victim is was a 38-year-old male, who was a visiting professor. He is currently at Sunrise Hospital and in a stable condition.

Two officers were also injured during searches for students hiding in the “vast rooms and buildings” on the university campus.

A reunification centre was later set up at the Las Vegas convention centre to help victims of the shooting.

“If you can’t get a hold of your loved ones right now, your kids or somebody that you’re concerned with, then that would be the place to go and to try to go ahead and do that reunification,” said fire chief John C Steinbeck.

Who was the killer?

At Thursday’s press conference, Mr McMahill confirmed that the gunman was 67-year-old Anthony Polito of Henderson, a career college professor who had applied for – but failed to be accepted for – a job at the UNLV.

Polito previously worked as a professor at colleges in Georgia and North Carolina, and kept a personal website where he proudly documented his academic achievements – and claimed to have solved the Zodiac Killer case.

According to Mr McMahill he had a previous criminal history of computer trespass out of Virginia in 1992.

On the day of the shooting Polito was armed with a Taurus nine-millimeter handgun, which had been purchased legally in 2022. He had brought 11 magazines to the scene with him. Nine loaded magazines were found on his person.

On Polito’s LinkedIn page, which had been changed to a “remembrance” page in the aftermath of the shooting, he described himself as a semi-retired university professor living in Las Vegas.

The short bio spoke of his fondness at the “kind & positive comments” from students he had taught over the years.

“The greatest gifts and takeaways I possess from my many years within higher education are the many kind & positive comments students made regarding my instruction and disposition toward them,” it reads.

According to Polito’s personal website, he earned a PhD in management from The Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia.

He also earned an MBA from The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and an undergraduate majoring in Mathematics and Statistics from Radford University.

He writes that he has lived in Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming.

But, Polito singled out Las Vegas as a place he had a lot of “pleasure” in visiting – the same location he chose to carry out Wednesday’s shooting.

Antony Polito has been identified as the gunman (Antony Polito website)
Antony Polito has been identified as the gunman (Antony Polito website)

On a section of the website titled “Theories Regarding Various Mysteries & Puzzles”, he shared a 15-page article – dated 2014 – in which he claimed he had cracked the secret of the identity of the infamous Zodiac Killer, who terrorised Northern California in the late 1960s and taunted police with codes.

In asserting his apparent solving of the case, Polito insisted he was not “a total crackpot” or a “dumb guy” but had used his MENSA skills to reach his conclusion.

In a Q&A section at the bottom of the memo – where Polito answers questions he suspects would arise from his theory – he boasts about being “smart” but not paid as well as he would like at work.

What was the motive?

Police currently do not have a motive for the killings, and said investigations would likely take a long time.

Mr McMahill told the press conference: “We will be conducting this investigation into the wee hours of the morning, there is no doubt. I know you have an insatiable appetite like I do to find out why, to understand motivation, and we will provide that to you at the appropriate time.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Mr McMahill said investigators were still trying to understand Polito’s motive for the shooting.

“I want to stress that we’re still learning a lot about this suspect is still trying to understand motive. We know he applied numerous times for a job with several Nevada higher education institutions, and was denied, each time he was rejected,” he said.

He added that the suspect had “a list of people he was seeking on a university campus” as well as faculty from the Eastern Carolina University.

“We have contacted almost everyone on those lists to make sure that they are all right. We have done that for all of UNLV and all of Eastern Carolina with the exception of one individual who is on an international flight,” Mr McMahill told a press conference.

He said that Polito was “struggling financially” at the time before the shooting, as evidenced by an eviction notice taped to his door when authorities executed a search warrant. We believe the suspect acted alone and we have zero indication of any other suspects at this time.”

Prior to the shooting Polito had visited a Henderson post office and sent 22 letters “to various University personnel across the country” with no return address.

“We are currently working with the postal inspector and our federal partners to begin processing these letters. We do not know the contents of these letters and we’re working to contact the recipients of those letters,” Mr McMahill said.

He continued “In the screening of those envelopes that we were able to intercept, after going through 14,000 pieces of mail and identifying the 22 that were sent, the first letter that we opened had a unknown white powder substance in it.

During a search of Polito’s an apartment in Henderson, Nevada, several computers and hard drive components were seized.

A chair with an arrow pointing down to a document which was “similar to a last will and testament” was also found.

Police work the scene after a shooting on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus (AP)
Police work the scene after a shooting on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus (AP)

Will students return to campus in the coming days?

Adam Garcia, from the University Police Services – Southern Command, said that all higher education campuses in southern Nevada would be closed following the incident out of “an abundance of caution”.

Mr Garcia did not immediately say when the campuses would reopen, but it was later confirmed that they would remain closed on Thursday and Friday.

Further determinations will be made as to whether or not the university will reopen next week, which will be finals week for students.

One UNLV student told ABC News he was unsure if many would want to return to the campus immediately following the incident.

“Thank gosh, it’s near the end of semester so we can have a month off for people to recover and hopefully we can grieve about this and come together as a community to pass this and go into next semester, but I don’t know I’m super nervous, I’m nervous about next semester,” he said.

A scheduled basketball game, due to take place between UNLV and the University of Dayton on Wednesday night, was also cancelled following the shooting.

On Thursday it was confirmed by UNLV president Kevin Whitfield that all operations on campus would be shuttered until Monday.

Further reaction

The mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, sent condolences on behalf of the city to the families of those affected by the shooting.

“The families that have lost, who’ve had this tragedy, bespeak everything that is not good about our country, what’s wrong and how we have to teach our children to handle stress and be able to work through anger and hate and other ways,” she told a press conference.

“It’s a very difficult time and it’s time for us as the adults – enough, it is enough and they’re just people filled with anger or not understanding how to handle disappointment in their lives, that they become even more hateful and full of anger and take lives of others.”

Campuses in southern Nevada will remain closed on Thursday and Friday (AP)
Campuses in southern Nevada will remain closed on Thursday and Friday (AP)

President Joe Biden also remarked on Wednesday’s shooting, as well as others that had taken place in Texas in recent days.

“Jill and I join citizens across our nation in praying for the families of our fallen, and for those who were injured during these latest acts of senseless violence,” he said.

“We are also grateful for the courageous work of law enforcement—who risked their own safety to bring an end to these deadly shooting sprees.

“Federal law enforcement officials are on the ground working with State and local law enforcement in both states and I have directed that all necessary support be provided to assist in the investigations and support these communities.”

In a statement shared with The Independent, the president of national gun violence organisation Brady said students at the UNLV campus would feel the “ripple effects” of Wednesday’s events for “the rest of their lives”.

"Just as our nation hit a devastating record for mass shootings this year, students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas – who have been subject to active shooter drills since childhood – will feel the ripple effects of today for the rest of their lives,” said Kris Brown.

“We should not accept a reality where an entire generation of Americans are defined by the constant threat of gun violence.

“America’s children are being gunned down at an alarming rate, and firearms are now the number one cause of death for our kids. How many more of our children have to be shot or irrecoverably traumatized by gun violence before we alter America’s relationship with firearms?”

Joe Biden condemned recent gun violence in Las Vegas and Texas (AP)
Joe Biden condemned recent gun violence in Las Vegas and Texas (AP)

Ms Brown continued: “UNLV is just a stone’s throw away from the site of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

“Our thoughts are with the students and the Las Vegas community, and we hope for the future of our country that change will come.”

How bad is US gun violence?

According to analysis by CNN, Wednesday’s shooting at UNLV marks the 80th US school shooting this year.

Of those, 51 shootings have been reported on K-12 campuses and 29 on university and college campuses, according to the outlet. This figure includes the latest shooting in Las Vegas on the UNLV campus.

In his remarks, Mr Biden highlighted that in 2023 the country had experienced more than 600 mass shootings, and approximately 40,000 deaths due to gun violence.

“This is not normal, and we can never let it become normal,” he said.

Rachel Sharp contributed reporting