The gunman who killed three people in a shooting spree at the University of Nevada’s Las Vegas campus on Wednesday had an “obsession” with Sin City and “peculiar” ways of working, according to his former students.
Anthony Polito, 67, was named by police as the suspect in the shooting, which ended when he was shot dead by police officers.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department chief Kevin McMahill said Polito was armed with a handgun and a stash of ammunition when he allegedly shot four faculty members at around 11.45am on Wednesday in Beam Hall, where the college’s Lee Business School is located.
Three victims, including assistant professor Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39, and Dr Cha Jan Chang, 64, were killed in the attack. The third victim was identified as Dr Naoko Takemaru.
A fourth person, who has been identified only as a 38-year-old male who was a visiting professor, is in hospital in a stable condition, police said.
Law enforcement sources said Polito had unsuccessfully applied for a college professorship at UNLV sometime prior to embarking on the deadly rampage.
Polito is believed to have sent 22 letters “to various university personnel across the country” at least one of which contained “an unknown white powder” before the shooting. However, police later confirmed that the white power was “harmless’. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department chief Kevin McMahill added that the suspect had “a list of people he was seeking on a university campus” as well as faculty from Eastern Carolina University.
While Polito’s motive for the shooting remains unclear, as well as details about his life leading up to the deadly shooting, his former students have described him as an “eccentric” but popular professor who had “peculiar ways of working’.
In particular, the 67-year-old, who previously worked as a professor at colleges in Georgia and North Carolina, was remembered for his “odd fixation” with Las Vegas.
On his personal website, he noted his love for the city, writing: “I had the pleasure of making more than two dozen trips over the last fifteen years. I don’t gamble that much, but there is plenty to do there, that’s for sure !! Over those years, my steel trap mind collected more information and trivia about Vegas than probably anyone in this state east of I-95.”
His former student, Paul Whittington, who was taught by Polito in 2014, said his class was “among my least favorites.”
“He was a poor instructor and had an odd fixation with Las Vegas. Spent more than half the class talking about all his trips to Las Vegas,” he added.
“He was my professor. He definitely enjoyed talking about his Vegas trips and how he exclusively stayed at the Wynn hotel,” another former student wrote on social media.
A former student also recalled Polito’s fixation on student feedback. The 67-year-old compiled years’ worth of anonymous comments from student surveys praising his instruction, publishing an 109-page report on his website.
Mr Whittington said Polito was fixated on the surveys and would dwell on the comments students submitted after they finished his course, even talking about them in class.
“He would actively try to guess or seek out who it was that was leaving the negative feedback. And he would make comments about that in class,” he said. “It was always uncomfortable to think about, especially knowing that I didn’t leave him a great review. I always wondered in the back of my head, ‘Was I talked about after his class?’ Did he point to my seat and say, ‘I know that guy who didn’t like me and he wrote a bad review — I remember his face’?”
Mr Whittington added that he now wonders whether Polito had a violent nature in him when he was his professor.
“It’s devastating,” he said. “If he’s capable of that today, was he capable of that 10 years ago when I was in his class? … That’s something that’s been very unnerving to me and my family today.”
Others who knew Politio, including Kimberly Chatelain-Flint, the property manager of the apartment complex he lived at while he was teaching at East Carolina University, described him as a “loner” who sometimes would get a little too personal.
“Always in a professor-like way, coat, heavy cologne, and he would come and sit at my desk and talk to me,” she told NBC News. “It felt like he needed someone to talk to.”
On his personal website, Polito also included claims that 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.
He also wrote pieces about the “search for intelligent extraterrestrial life” and what he believed to be the real meaning behind the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception.
In another section on the website, titled: “Powerful Organizations Bent on Global Domination!” he listed companies including the Rothschild family, Bilderberg Group, the International Monetary Fund and Economics Department of MIT. In that section, Polito posted a link to a website created by far-right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.