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UNLV Gunman Had Sent Powder-Laced Envelopes to Officials

Anthony Polito, 67, is believed to have targeted at least some of his victims, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Police are seen at the scene of a shooting on the UNLV campus on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Madeline Carter/Las Vegas Review-Journal/TNS)
Madeline Carter/TNS
(TNS) — The gunman who killed three people at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Wednesday was identified as an academic who was seeking work at the university, the Las Vegas Metropolitan sheriff said Thursday.

Anthony Polito, 67, is believed to have targeted at least some of his victims, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Two of those killed were identified as Lee Business School faculty members Patricia Navarro-Velez and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, UNLV officials said Thursday. The third victim, also a UNLV faculty member, has not been identified pending notification of next of kin.

A fourth gunshot victim, who was critically injured, had stabilized by Wednesday night, authorities said. He was described as a 38-year-old visiting professor.

Within minutes of the shooting, which began around noon Wednesday at UNLV’s business school, law enforcement officers opened fire on the gunman, authorities said at a Wednesday evening news conference. The shooter was killed outside the building, Sheriff Kevin McMahill said.

Hours later, investigators searched Polito’s apartment in nearby Henderson, Nevada, with the aid of a SWAT team.

A few units in the complex were cordoned off Thursday morning as two police officers stood by. A window was broken on one of the top units, which an officer indicated had belonged to Polito.

Neighbors said the man, always in business clothes and often carrying a briefcase, had stood out from the younger residents in the apartment complex, located about eight miles from the UNLV campus. His attire — along with his black license plate that read ‘KAPEESH’ — had led some of the neighbors to refer to him as “mafia dude.” He didn’t like small talk.

“He’s very quiet, lived like a hermit,” said Anthony James Carew, 42, who moved in six years ago and said Polito was already living there. “I’ve never seen the guy have a conversation with anybody.”

Greg Gibson, who has lived in the complex for half a year, said he caught Polito’s eye the morning of the shooting and gave him a nod, getting only a “thousand-yard stare” in return.

“He seemed agitated. That’s why I noticed him,” said Gibson, 43. “He was pacing, smoking the cigarette and looked unusual, stressed out. I was like, ‘This doesn’t look good.’ ”

Investigators recovered a dashboard camera from Polito’s vehicle, McMahill said. Shortly before heading to campus, Polito visited a Henderson post office and mailed 22 letters to university personnel at UNLV and Eastern Carolina University with no return address.

Law enforcement officials recovered the letters, and the first one they opened contained an unidentified white powder, McMahill said.

Polito had a list of people he looked for on campus, the sheriff said.

“We know he applied numerous times for a job with several Nevada institutions and was denied each time,” he said.

He arrived on campus at 11:28 a.m. Wednesday, and “he had brought 11 magazines to the scene with him,” McMahill said. The gun, a 9-millimeter pistol, was purchased legally in 2022, and the magazines were stored on a belt.

He entered Beam Hall at 11:33 a.m.; the first emergency call came in to campus police at 11:44, according to Adam Garcia, the director of UNLV Police Services. The first officer was at the scene within 78 seconds, Garcia said.

Polito exited the building at 11:55 and was confronted by two plainclothes officers. A video from the scene showed the confrontation and shooting of Polito as he followed an officer around a police car that the officer was using for cover.

A search of Polito’s apartment revealed “a notice of eviction taped to the front door,” McMahill said. In the apartment, a document “similar to a last will and testament” was found by police, he said.

On his personal website, Polito wrote at length about his life, his fascination with Las Vegas, rambling conspiracy theories and repeated mentions of his membership in the Mensa society for people with high IQ.

Despite no expertise in the field, he claimed in a 2014 self-published essay that he was the first to solve the Zodiac killer’s cryptography. In another essay about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that went missing with 239 people aboard in 2014, he wrote baselessly that “government/media disinformation was dispersed to suppress public realization that MH370 had been hijacked” in order “to suppress the actual location of the wreckage.”

In a section of the website titled “Powerful Organizations Bent on Global Domination!” he linked to a number of conspiracy theories, including a film by Alex Jones about the “globalists’ dark agenda” and a YouTube video promoting antisemitic tropes about the Rothschild family.

Classes at UNLV were canceled through Sunday as students, faculty and neighbors mourned the tragedy, which came six years after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, less than five miles from campus on the Las Vegas Strip.

“This is Route 91 all over again,” said 22-year-old student Olivia Stabile, referencing the 2017 Las Vegas shooting at a music festival in which 59 died. “Why Vegas again, out of all places, and then in one of the most defenseless places?”

Shaken students are encouraging peers to send a letter to university leaders urging them to cancel final exams that were scheduled to start next week, move them completely online or give students “a pass for bereavement considerations.”

Larissa Geilen, the social media director at UNLV’s student newspaper, the Scarlet and Gray, worried about her friends at the newsroom on the third floor of the student union. Messages in their WhatsApp group started flowing after the campus alert of the shooting, with students trying to account for one another.

“It’s just such a gamble every single time you go out because with the prevalence of these things; it’s just bound to happen,” she said. “It’s such a horrible, horrible reality.”

As shots rang out Wednesday, students ran for safety or sheltered in place, locking doors and building barricades. Four people were taken to a hospital after suffering panic attacks.

After cowering in the dining hall for hours with the sound of helicopters whirring overhead, Amerie Collins, an 18-year-old pre-nursing student, was looking to get far away from campus Wednesday evening. She said she planned to spend the night at her cousin’s house with her roommate.

“A lot of people are not here,” Collins said. “Everyone collectively just decided it’s not a safe place to be right now.”

Zachary Gutierrez, 18, said he’d been 15 minutes into math class when every phone chimed simultaneously with the alert to “RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.”

He spent the afternoon streaming the news of the mass shooting on the class projector.

“My parents just didn’t want me staying in the dorms tonight,” Gutierrez said as he walked off campus Wednesday evening with his father.

Many students praised the response of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which they said arrived on campus within minutes of their realizing anything was awry.

“If there’s anything positive about today, it’s that they were really on it,” said Jaden Nii, 19. “Pretty much as soon as we get notifications on our phone, we could already hear the sirens coming.”

But some said they wanted to see better preparation. Janiyah Faison, an 18-year-old freshman, said a few of her classmates had responded to the active shooting alert by poking their heads out of doors and opening windows so they could hear any commotion.

For most students, she said, much of the training on what to do in the event of a school shooter had come from their high schools.

“Everybody clowned on our high school principals and superintendents and stuff for the lockdown drills and everything — but we need to have those here,” Faison said. “It’s been ingrained into everybody like, ‘OK, if there’s a fire, you should leave through the stairs.’ But when something like this happens, nobody knows what to do.”

David Giddens, a 21-year-old studying kinesiology, was sitting in the health sciences building with lab partners when he started getting alerts about the shooting. They decided to flee toward a nearby elementary school, breaking into a full sprint when they saw other students running.

“I don’t know how to really describe it,” he said. “My mind kind of switched to survival mode.”

Giddens said he couldn’t sleep much Wednesday night and kept worrying about the well-being of friends.

“Going on campus is gonna be really rough for some people,” he said. “They’re super-traumatized.”

(Ellis and Truong reported from Las Vegas. Winton and Castleman reported from Los Angeles.)

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