UNLV gunman sent letters to 22 university personnel across the U.S.

The gunman who opened fire at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Wednesday, killing three people, mailed letters to 22 “various university personnel across the country” before the attack, police said Thursday.

Las Vegas Metro Police Department Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the suspect mailed the letters without a return address.

A white powder substance was found in a screening of one of the envelopes that was intercepted by law enforcement, McMahill said. The powder was later found to be harmless, police said.

The contents of the letters remain unclear, according to McMahill.

McMahill said authorities were able to intercept all 22 letters mailed from a post office in nearby Henderson, Nevada, after having sifted through 14,000 pieces of mail.

All 22 recipients of the letters have been contacted, McMahill said. He also encouraged “anyone in the education world” who might receive a taped envelope with no return address in the mail to report it to local authorities.

Suspect had a list ‘seeking’ UNLV faculty members

The suspect, who has been identified as Anthony Polito, 67, had applied for multiple jobs within the Nevada higher education system, including at UNLV, McMahill said. He was denied every time.

He had a list with him containing names of faculty members both on UNLV’s campus and at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where he worked from 2001 to 2017. McMahill said the shooter was “seeking” the people on the list.

“Students were not the targets here,” Clark County Commission Chairman Jim Gibson said Thursday.

Image: Las Vegas police stand near the scene of a shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Las Vegas police stand Thursday near the scene of a shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.John Locher / AP

Officials have contacted almost everyone on the list to make sure they are OK, McMahill said, except for one ECU faculty member who is on an international flight.

None of the faculty members on the list were victims in the attack, McMahill told reporters Thursday.

The shooter arrived at campus at 11:28 a.m. local time and parked his car, a 2007 Lexus, at a parking lot south of Beam Hall at 11:30 a.m. He entered Beam Hall on its southeast corner at 11:33 a.m., McMahill said.

The first shots fired were reported to police around 11:45 a.m., McMahill said, with the first officer arriving at the scene 78 seconds later, University Police Chief Adam Garcia said.

Two officers, upon hearing shots fired in Beam Hall, immediately entered “without hesitation” to find and stop the shooter, McMahill said.

McMahill said the shooter left the building at 11:55 a.m. and was met by two plainclothes officers. The suspect was shot multiple times in a shootout before he fell to the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two of the three victims killed have been identified as Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39, a Las Vegas resident who was an assistant professor of accounting and worked on the fourth floor of Beam Hall, and ChaJan “Jerry” Chang, 64, a Henderson resident who was a professor of business and worked on the third floor.

The identity of the third deceased victim has not been released.

A fourth victim is in life-threatening condition at Sunrise Hospital, McMahill said. He has been identified as a 38-year-old man who was a visiting professor at UNLV.

Handgun used in attack was purchased legally

A motive remains unclear, McMahill said. Police are scrubbing the suspect’s social media accounts and personal devices to locate any warning signs. They said he acted alone.

The weapon was a Taurus 9 mm handgun, McMahill said. The shooter had 11 magazines with him, nine of them loaded, which were found after the shooting in a magazine carrier affixed to his body.

The gun was purchased legally last year, McMahill said.

In a search of the suspect’s apartment with a warrant, McMahill said, officials found a Taurus handgun box that matched the weapon the shooter used.

Officials also found a chair with an arrow pointing to a document similar to a last will and testament, McMahill said. Officials did not detail what was in the document.

The suspect was struggling financially, McMahill said, which was determined by an eviction notice posted on the front door of the apartment. It was there when police arrived to search it.

McMahill said he was not sure of other plans of violence besides the UNLV attack, but he added he was “glad [the shooter] didn’t get out of UNLV.”