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UNLV gunman had ‘target list,’ sheriff says

Updated December 7, 2023 - 7:45 pm

Las Vegas police identified a former business professor unaffiliated with UNLV as the gunman who opened fire on the university’s campus, killing three faculty members and injuring a fourth.

Anthony Polito, 67, had been turned down multiple times from positions at Nevada universities, Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill said during a press conference Thursday.

Polito walked into UNLV’s Beam Hall, which houses the Lee School of Business, late Wednesday morning and shot four faculty members with a Taurus 9mm handgun.

Two of the three victims Polito killed have been identified as UNLV professors Patricia Navarro Velez, 39, and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, according to the Clark County coroner’s office. A fourth person injured was a 38-year-old visiting professor, who remains at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, McMahill said.

“We believe the suspect acted alone, and we have zero indication of any other suspects at this time,” McMahill said.

McMahill said that Polito was armed with about 150 rounds of ammunition, and had brought 11 magazines with him to the school. Investigators found a “target list” in his Henderson apartment, and learned that Polito mailed 22 letters from a Henderson post office prior to the shooting, addressed to university personnel across the country.

The “target list” found in Polito’s apartment included faculty members at UNLV and East Carolina University in North Carolina, where he taught for several years, McMahill said. All of the UNLV faculty on the list have been notified, along with all but one East Carolina University faculty member who was on an international flight.

“None of the individuals listed on the target list became a victim,” the sheriff said.

One of Polito’s letters intercepted by police contained an “unknown white powder substance” in it. The Metropolitan Police Department said Thursday evening via X that powder found in the envelopes was “harmless.”

McMahill warned university personnel, especially those at UNLV and East Carolina University, to alert police if they receive a taped envelope with no return address.

Officers quickly on scene

The handgun used in the shooting had been purchased legally by Polito in 2022, McMahill said.

At 11:28 a.m. Wednesday, Polito parked his 2007 Lexus near Beam Hall. He stepped out of his car, strapped multiple objects to his body and walked into the building at about 11:33 a.m. The first 911 call reporting the shooting came in at 11:45 a.m., McMahill said.

University police Chief Adam Garcia said the first officer arrived at the scene within 78 seconds of the initial 911 call. On Wednesday, Garcia said that UNLV police officers were attending an event near the building when the shots were reported. McMahill said that both UNLV and Metro officers entered Beam hall “without hesitation.”

Two victims who died were found on the third floor of Beam Hall, another victim who died was found on the fourth floor, and the victim who survived is believed to have been shot on the fifth floor, McMahill said.

Polito left the building at 11:55 a.m., McMahill said, 10 minutes after the first 911 call. A gunfight erupted between Polito and two plainclothes UNLV police detectives, and Polito was shot and killed. Police have yet to identify the officers who shot Polito. McMahill said the officers who shot Polito had also entered the building earlier.

The exact movements of Polito and the officers remain unclear. McMahill said a lack of cameras inside the building has added confusion to the exact order of events. McMahill asked anyone who has video or witnessed the shooting on Wednesday to contact Metro detectives.

Police were able to quickly respond to the shooting, McMahill said, because of the training county agencies have gone through since the Route 91 Harvest festival massacre in 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Officers avoided a “much larger tragedy” before Polito was able to enter another campus building, as he was possibly heading toward the student union, McMahill said.

Garcia said that the shooting “could have been a bloodbath” and that the officers who confronted Polito “risked their lives to save those of countless others.”

The gunman’s history in academia

Polito’s only criminal history was for “computer trespass” in Virginia from 1992, McMahill said.

His LinkedIn profile, which briefly showed an “In remembrance” tag on Thursday before the page was deleted, included his academic positions, multiple posts about Las Vegas and a post with a 15-page document claiming he decoded messages from the Zodiac Killer.

Late Wednesday, police served a search warrant at Polito’s Henderson apartment in the 300 block of North Arroyo Grande Boulevard, just south of West Warm Springs Road. McMahill said an eviction notice was found on Polito’s door, and investigators believe he was “struggling financially”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Polito’s longest academic position was his time at East Carolina University. A spokesperson with the school confirmed Thursday that Polito started working there in August 2001 as an assistant professor in the university’s business college. He resigned in January 2017 as a tenured associate professor.

Polito also taught at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, from 1999 to 2001, and at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, according to his LinkedIn. He has also been affiliated with Wake Forest University, Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, and Henderson’s Roseman University of Health Sciences.

Polito was a contracted adjunct instructor who taught a business management class twice in 2020 at the private Henderson health care university, said Jason Roth, the school’s vice president of communications. The school discontinued its MBA program in 2022, and the adjunct faculty are no longer employed at the school, he said.

Polito’s education includes a doctorate in operations management from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University, and bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics from Radford University in Virginia. Early in his career, he was a high school mathematics instructor, according to the LinkedIn profile.

His resume states that he is a member of Mensa International and a life scout with the Boy Scouts of America.

On his LinkedIn profile, Polito indicated he had made at least two dozen trips to Las Vegas in the past 15 years. His profile also included a history of the 21 cars he has owned and a computer he made from scratch.

Polito’s personal website, where he’s identified as a “semi-retired university professor,” contains hundreds of links organized by seemingly random categories, including multiple sections on Las Vegas hotels and clubs, and a section on “powerful organizations bent on global domination.”

UNLV campus a “ghost town”

UNLV’s campus will remain closed throughout Friday, and it remains unclear if the university will reopen next week.

During Thursday’s press conference, UNLV President Keith Whitfield said that officials would review safety protocols on UNLV’s campus following the deadly shooting, but that he is not inclined to close the campus to outside visitors, as some students have called for.

“I’m sure the chief would not turn down my offer to see if we can put more cameras on campus,” he said.

Parts of UNLV’s campus that are normally flooded with students were left barren Thursday morning.

Nearly every building was locked, and police tape cut off areas surrounding the student union and the Beam Hall, where the gunman opened fire on Wednesday.

“This is a ghost town right now,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor at UNLV’s School of Public Health, who said he came to campus to check on his lab facilities.

‘You could hear the quiet sobs’

UNLV film student Mesafent Yilma and journalism student Miriam Lachica said they were in different ballrooms at the Student Union when the shooting happened. Lachica said the people she hid with in the ballroom turned out all the lights and tried to remain quiet after the university went into lockdown.

“In the darkness, you could hear the quiet sobs,” she said.

Yilma said he’s still trying to wrap his mind around who could “do such a thing to innocent people.”

“It’s very distressing, but I’m trying to process and keep going,” he said Thursday, while waiting to receive his belongings from the Student Union. “Because at the end of the day, that’s all we really can do.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Staff writers Jeff Burbank, Mark Credico and David Wilson and digital content producer Marvin Clemons contributed to this story.

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