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UNLV shooting: 3 victims, gunman dead; reports name suspect

Updated December 9, 2023 - 9:40 pm

A gunman opened fire on the UNLV campus on Wednesday, killing three, seriously injuring a fourth person, and forcing terrified students and faculty to barricade themselves in classrooms.

ABC News, citing multiple law enforcement sources, reported late Wednesday that 67-year-old Anthony Polito was the suspect.

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that the shooter was a professor who unsuccessfully sought a job at the school.

The shooting began inside Beam Hall near the student union, where students outside the buildings were relaxing and eating lunch on the sunny, clear day.

The gunman died in a shootout with law enforcement, Sheriff Kevin McMahill said at an evening news conference. He provided no information on the victims, such as whether they were students or faculty members.

“If it hadn’t been for the heroic actions of one of those police officers who responded, there could have been countless additional lives taken,” the sheriff said.

The gunman began to shoot on the fourth floor of Beam Hall, which houses the Lee Business School, and then moved to multiple floors. Once outside, the suspect exchanged gunfire with law enforcement and was “neutralized” by a UNLV police officer, McMahill said.

A victim first reported to be in critical condition, who was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, is now stable, McMahill said. Four other people were taken to nearby hospitals for panic attacks, and several police officers received minor injuries.

Earlier Wednesday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal obtained a copy of Polito’s driver’s license with a Henderson address and arrived to find police blocking the entrance to the Promontory Point Apartments, 360 N. Arroyo Grande Blvd.

Around 8:30 p.m., SWAT vehicles and several other Metropolitan Police Department vehicles exited the complex. About 20 minutes later, police removed the crime scene tape at the entrance and allowed residents to pull into the complex.

Inside the complex a few police vehicles remained. Crime scene tape blocked off a small portion of the complex around Building 10. People could be seen inside an upstairs unit, which matched the address on the copy of Polito’s driver’s license. They appeared to be looking through items, and there were flashes indicating that photos were being taken.

‘Everybody goes silent’

Faculty and students were alerted to the danger by a text message from the University Police Department at 11:51 a.m. The message said there was an active shooter at Beam Hall, and to “RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.” Loud alarms also could be heard on campus.

By 1:09 p.m. the instructions had changed, advising sheltering in place while police continued to clear buildings systematically. The message was repeated every five minutes through 2:40 p.m.

At about 7:30 p.m., law enforcement said all shelter-in-place instructions had been lifted.

After the shooting, students and faculty spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal of their terror.

Truman Rowley, an assistant professor of accounting, said he was on the fourth floor, where the shooting began, when he heard loud bangs that he for a moment thought were balloons popping.

He quickly ran to the stairs of the building and shouted, “Active shooter!”

Rowley continued shouting as he ran down the stairwell, stopping at each floor, until he fled the business school into the student union to shelter in place. He barricaded himself in an office, where he heard what sounded like shots from within the building.

Cynthia Castro, a 21-year-old history and anthropology major, described being in a classroom near Beam Hall when she received a text message alert about shots fired.

“Everybody goes silent, and we get an actual notification that there was an active shooter,” she said.

“The professor turned off the lights and we just kind of sat there. I could already hear people tear up and crying. I could see everyone messaging their loved ones.”

Men in the class removed their belts in an effort to barricade the classroom door, she said.

“So it was just them standing, holding their belts, like pulling, hoping the doors wouldn’t open,” she said.

The students were evacuated from the classroom at about 1:30 p.m., she said, and taken by bus to the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, a hub for services and a place for family and friends to reunite.

Two student journalists with the Scarlet & Gray Free Press, the UNLV campus newspaper, were in the student union when the shooting began. Editor-in-Chief Allister Dias and News Editor Shainna Alipon were in the third-floor newsroom when Dias heard sirens outside.

From a balcony, “I just heard very audible gunshots like ‘pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,’ ” Dias said. He saw 50 or 60 students running outside.

He and Alipon ran from the building but heard more gunshots outside.

“I was terrified, of course,” he said, but he managed to get footage of a SWAT team entering the student union.

Teddrick Nelson was returning film equipment when he heard the shooting happen in a nearby building.

“I heard the gunshots and then the people screaming, and then I saw people just rush out of the building,” Nelson said. “On the loudspeaker they said, ‘There’s an active shooter, please leave.’ ”

Nelson ran out to the campus parking lot on Maryland Parkway, then kept running when he heard shots coming from the student union.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get the sound of those screams or those gunshots out of my head,” he said.

‘A fear came over me’

Small crowds gathered on sidewalks at Maryland Parkway and Tropicana Avenue as armored police vehicles drove toward the college campus and handfuls of students walked away from their school.

“I was frozen,” Damalia Gutierrez said as she waited for her niece to come down the street. “I mean, just like a panic, a fear just came over me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and what I was texting.”

Gutierrez and many other family members and friends rushed to the scene as soon as they learned of the shooting. Gutierrez received a text from her niece.

After about two hours of waiting, Gutierrez embraced her niece, Nyomi Page, after Page let go of a hug from her mother.

Page said she was in class when the shooting happened. She heard people crying as the students inside watched under the door for any footsteps.

“It just got more and more scary realizing I was two buildings away from the shooter,” Page said.

‘My biggest fear as a faculty member’

Katherine Lee, a school psychology and counselor education professor, said she was about to head to campus but held off when she received the school’s text message alerts.

Lee said her phone “blew up” with messages from people both on and off campus, from alumni and from other people concerned for her safety.

“It was really overwhelming,” Lee said. “I was touched by how many people reached out.”

Lee said she felt better knowing her students are safe. Lee said she and other faculty members had offered their cellphone numbers to students.

Melva Thompson-Robinson, a professor in the School of Public Health, said she had been on campus earlier in the day but left to have lunch with a student.

A doctoral student called Thompson-Robinson and told her to not come back to campus. That’s when she went outside and saw a police presence near the campus.

“This is my biggest fear as a faculty member,” she said. “That something will happen, especially as we’re getting ready to go into finals. That people will take things into their own hands for whatever reason.”

“It’s not the way academia is supposed to be. This is not how life is supposed to be,” she said.

“How do you process this?” Thompson-Robinson said.

‘Zero hesitation’

A 5 p.m. news conference included remarks by Gov. Joe Lombardo, who praised the coordinated response of first responders and local officials.

McMahill said lessons learned during the October 2017 mass shooting helped first responders react quickly to the UNLV shooting and prevent further loss of life.

“No student should have to fear pursuing their dreams on the college campus,” McMahill said. “What happened today is a heinous and unforgivable crime. But I want you all to know something: It’s a crime that we trained for each and every day.”

He spoke of the time and energy spent training law enforcement and other emergency personnel since Oct. 1, 2017, when Las Vegas experienced the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Three miles from the campus of 31,000 students, a lone gunman on the Las Vegas Strip opened fire from a hotel tower on an outdoor country music festival, killing 60.

McMahill said there was “zero hesitation” by both on-duty and off-duty officers in responding to Wednesday’s violence.

On Wednesday, McMahill said there was no further threat for the public. Victims were transported to local hospitals.

UNLV had been under a shelter-in-place order for seven hours as police evacuated buildings on campus one at a time. UNLV said in an alert Wednesday evening that police will remain on campus near Beam Hall, Flora Dungan Humanities, Student Union and Wright Hall while the investigation continues.

The UNLV campus will remain closed through Friday, according to university police Chief Adam Garcia, who said the university was heartbroken by the shooting. It remains uncertain whether the university will reopen next week, which is finals week.

In an email to the UNLV community, President Keith Whitfield wrote, “We’re all still in shock as we process the unfathomable event. Members of our community lost their lives and others were injured. My heart aches for our UNLV family.”

Whitfield commended students and staff who followed the shelter-in-place order, and thanked first responders for their “immediate and dedicated” response.

“UNLV is strong and UNLV is resilient,” he said in his message. “Our community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni will pull together to support one another in this time of crisis. Know it’s okay not to be okay at this dark time. Ask for help if you need it. You are part of an incredible community and together we will pull through.”

In a letter to the Nevada State University community posted on X, President DeRionne Pollard wrote: “This tragic event on the campus of our sister institution UNLV is deeply painful as we recognize that a threat to one is a threat to us all. We are reminded, once again, that our community is not immune to the violence we see around the world.”

University of Nevada, Reno, President Brian Sandoval wrote on X: “This is an unimaginably sad and shocking day for our entire state with the news that there are multiple victims from an active shooting incident on the UNLV campus. Although we do not know many of the details associated with this tragic news at the present time, our heart is broken for the students, faculty and staff of UNLV and the community of Las Vegas.”

All Nevada System of Higher Education campuses in Southern Nevada will be closed on Thursday.

‘Unimaginably sad and shocking day’

President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that he had directed federal law enforcement to assist with investigations related to the shooting, and condemned gun violence across the United States including in Austin and San Antonio, Texas where six people were killed Tuesday.

“This year alone, our nation has experienced more than 600 mass shootings, and approximately 40,000 deaths due to gun violence,” Biden said. “This is not normal, and we can never let it become normal.”

As students streamed out of UNLV on Wednesday afternoon, they and their family members called for change in response to the shooting.

“We need to have some action. I’m tired of this gun violence,” UNLV student Julia Chiaravanont said as she walked away from campus. “It’s a nationwide problem.”

Chiaravanont was taking a final exam in a nearby building when the shooting happened. Her friend, fellow student Jerwia Tiu, came to campus to make sure she was OK, and the two walked away from the college together.

“I just want to emphasize that people should be holding their legislators and policymakers accountable to be addressing these issues that affect young people,” Tiu said.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MaryHynes1 on X. Staff members Tony Garcia, Rick Velotta, David Wilson, Julie Wootton-Greener, Ricardo Torres-Cortez, Jimmy Romo, Mark Credico, Taylor Lane, Jeff Burbank, Taylor Avery and Katelyn Newberg contributed to this report.

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