On Wednesday morning, three college professors in Las Vegas got up and went to work in Beam Hall, home of the business school at the University of Nevada. One oversaw Japanese Studies, another taught accounting, a third management of information systems.
All were slaughtered, gunned down by a disgruntled former professor who came to campus with a .9 mm handgun, 150 rounds of ammunition and a vendetta.
Their deaths in America’s latest high-profile mass shooting prompted sweeping calls Friday for gun control from educators across the country – a group to whom many look for answers in times of tragedy and distress. They demanded an end to the epidemic of gun violence that has left college campuses particularly vulnerable to fatal rampages.
Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, a prominent faculty group, in a statement called gun violence an “unacceptable national menace” and urged gun policy reform.
“We mourn the most recent senseless, tragic violence & murder on a college campus,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “We call upon our elected leaders to move forward with actions that we know can begin to solve our American gun violence epidemic.”
Her voice joined others calling for reform in the days after the Las Vegas shooting, that shattered the campus and changed lives forever. Details about the shooting continued to emerge Friday, including the identity of the third professor killed. Another faculty member was wounded with life-threatening injuries. Police have identified the suspect in the shooting as Anthony Polito, a former faculty member at East Carolina University who had applied for a job at the Nevada university and was turned down.
As the UNLV community reels from the shockwaves of Wednesday’s tragedy, UNLV President Keith Whitfield encouraged people struggling with mental health to seek help.
“We’re getting used to, in this country, of seeing these kinds of incidents happen,” Whitfield said. “But just because we’re used to seeing them doesn't mean that they’re normal or that they don’t affect people.”
Here's what we know so far:
Biden meets with UNLV students, community members
President Joe Biden mourned on Friday victims of the deadly shooting at UNLV and called again on Congress to enact tougher gun-safety measures.
Biden opened his remarks at an infrastructure event in Las Vegas by offering his prayers for the families of those killed in Wednesday’s shooting and praising law enforcement officers who put their lives at risk to respond to such tragedies. He noted more than 600 mass shootings have unfolded in the United States this year.
“This is not normal, and we can never let it become normal,” he said. “People have the right to feel safe, be safe.”
Biden’s trip to Las Vegas was planned before Wednesday’s shooting, but while there he met privately with students from the college and community leaders. The meeting was held at a carpenter training center ahead of his infrastructure speech.
In his remarks, Biden said Congress needs to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and enact other “commonsense” gun-safety measures.
“You know, the Second Amendment didn’t say you can own any gun and own any weapon,” he said.
Final exams, in-person classes canceled
Whitfield announced in-person classes for the rest of 2023 were canceled, along with final exams scheduled for next week.
“Given the physical and emotional trauma that the university community has endured, and because of the impact to campus facilities, we have decided that faculty and staff should continue to work remotely through the end of the calendar year,” Whitfield said.
The president said winter commencement, scheduled for Dec. 19 and 20, will still take place, after hearing students and their families express a “desire to come together.”
“The milestone moment of commencement is the most special day on the university calendar, and it's in difficult times like these that we can and should celebrate our graduates’ academic dreams fulfilled,” Whitfield said.
Naoko Takemaru oversaw Japanese Studies at UNLV
The Clark County Coroner's Office identified the final person killed in the shooting as Naoko Takemaru, 69, on Friday. Takemaru lived in Las Vegas and was an associate professor at UNLV, teaching Japanese studies at Beam Hall, according to her staff page on the university's website.
"Takemaru has taught all levels of Japanese language, conversation, composition, grammar, culture, and Japanese-English translation," the university wrote. "She has also coordinated Japanese language programs at the university level. At UNLV, she oversees the entire Japanese Studies Program, and teaches upper-division courses on Japanese language, culture, and business."
French professor Margaret Harp recalled Takemaru for her wide breadth of artistic talents. Takemaru played the piano, embroidered, and gifted homemade chocolates every holiday season. She was hired in 2003 to develop the Japanese language program, Harp said, and succeeded with a constantly full class.
A “cat lover supreme,” Takemaru’s office was covered with cat pictures, drawings, puzzles and calendars, her colleague said.
“Naoko was frail physically. However, she was lionhearted in kindness, lionhearted in generosity, lionhearted in humanity – the point of liberal arts,” Harp said. “And I have no doubt she was lionhearted in her final moments on earth."
Patricia Navarro-Velez taught accounting at UNLV
Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39, was an assistant accounting professor in Beam Hall, according to her university staff page.
She earned her PhD in accounting from the University of Central Florida, her masters in accounting from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and her bachelors in accounting at the University of Puerto Rico, Ponce campus.
Navarro-Velez researched cybersecurity disclosures and assurances, internal control weakness disclosure and data analytics.
"She was a recipient of the AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students and the KPMG Foundation Minority Doctoral Students Scholarship from 2014 to 2019," the university wrote. "Dr. Navarro’s teaching interests are in accounting information systems."
Accounting professor Jason Smith remembered Navarro-Velez for her “larger-than-life personality, an infectious smile and a genuine kindness that made everyone around her feel like family.”
Smith said she was known for her baking talents, such as crème brûlée and macarons, and a love of gatherings. “‘The more the merrier,’ she would say,” Smith recalled.
Navarro-Velez worked at three universities before taking on a role at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms, he said. She later returned to the classroom as a professor to share her love for the field.
“Framily,” emblazoned in a picture frame in her kitchen, sums her legacy up best, Smith said, defined as friends who become family.
“Her lasting legacy is one of a wide circle of friends who – through her influence and love, and through this experience today – find ourselves as family,” Smith said.
Cha Jan "Jerry" Chang specialized in information systems
Cha Jan "Jerry" Chang, 64, has taught in the university's Beam Hall, along with his two slain colleagues, within the department of management, entrepreneurship and technology.
According to a resume on his staff page, the business professor earned a PhD and masters in management of information systems from the University of Pittsburgh, a masters in business administration from Texas A & M University, a masters degree in computer science from Central Michigan University and a bachelors in oceanography from the National Taiwan Ocean University.
He's been a professor at UNLV since 2001, mainly teaching management of information systems.
"My heart breaks for the families, friends, and loved ones of Dr. Navarro and Dr. Chang, and for all of the victims of this senseless act of violence that has physically and emotionally affected so many," UNLV President Keith Whitfield said in a Thursday statement.
Business professor Keah-Choon Tan met Chang in 2001 and recalled ice fishing trips with him and their kids in the early years of friendship. In one of the excursions, Tan said they were both pulled over at the same time by the same trooper and both received speeding tickets. “We learned our lesson,” Tan said through laughter.
“Jerry was a rigorous researcher and a good teacher who deeply loved his students at UNLV,” he said.
Teachers union urges America not to become numb to mass shootings
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents faculty and staff in Nevada, said Americans “cannot become desensitized” to mass shootings just because they “happen so often.”
“Today we mourn; tomorrow we take action—for common sense gun reforms, including removing weapons of war from our streets and communities, enforcing background checks and safe storage laws, banning high-capacity magazines and passing more extreme risk protection laws,” she said in a statement.
The Nevada Faculty Alliance, the union for professors in the state, said no words could convey the “bewilderment and sorrow we feel for our colleagues.”
“Platitudes, thoughts, and prayers cannot make this right,” the union said in a statement Thursday. “Violence is never an acceptable solution.”
Who is unemployed professor and gunman Anthony Polito?
The gunman identified by authorities as Anthony Polito, 67, had applied for jobs at various Nevada colleges, including UNLV, and was turned down each time, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Kevin McMahill said. Polito also mailed 22 letters to university faculty members across the nation.
The sheriff also said Polito, 67, was in financial distress, as indicated by a notice of eviction found taped to the front door of his apartment. A motive for his shooting rampage is under investigation.
Polito was hired by East Carolina University in 2001 as an assistant professor in the department of marketing and supply chain management in the business college. He resigned in January 2017 as a tenured associate professor, Jeannine Manning Hutson, a spokesperson for the university, told USA TODAY. Polito described himself online as "semi-retired."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UNLV shooting: 3rd victim ID'd; college professors decry gun violence