Anthony Polito was identified as the 67-year-old college professor who opened fire December 6 on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, killing three people and wounding another before being shot and killed by police, according to NBC News.
“The suspect is deceased,” Las Vegas Metropolitan police posted on X (formerly Twitter) just after 1:30 p.m. Pacific time on December 6.
Patricia Navarro-Velez and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang were the first two victims of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas mass shooting to be named. Both were respected faculty members at the business school, according to a university statement.
Polito was first named by ABC News, citing sources. Authorities have not formally named him. ABC7 reported that he lived in Henderson, Nevada, and that authorities were scouring his writings, which included a fascination with the Zodiac Killer case of the 1960s.
On a website using the name Tony Polito, the suspect claimed to have solved the Zodiac Killer’s famous cipher, naming a well-known suspect as the killer. He also wrote that he had “lived in Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. In my travels, I especially enjoyed Jackson Hole, The Outer Banks, Key West … and, of course, Durham.” His strongest academic ties appear to have been in North Carolina.
In a section on his website about cracking various mysteries, he posted an article he wrote called “What Really Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.”
“This theory posits that MH370 was a failed radical terrorist hijacking, with the intent of using the plane to destroy the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur,” the page says.
On his since-deleted LinkedIn page, he called himself Tony Polito and described himself as “a Semi-Retired University Professor” living in Las Vegas.
Sheriff Kevin McMahill said in an evening press conference that authorities know the name of the suspect but aren’t releasing it yet. Three of the shooting victims are confirmed deceased; a fourth victim suffered a gunshot wound and is in stable condition, he said. Four other people were taken to hospitals suffering from panic attacks. Two officers had minor injuries, according to McMahill. The victims’ names and relationship to the school were not yet released, although ABC7 reported that they were all students or faculty. It’s not yet clear whether Polito knew any of the victims, who have not yet been named publicly; his motive is not clear.
According to McMahill, students at UNLV’s business school were playing games, eating food and building with Legos when the shooter showed up. He said a “heroic” officer prevented additional lives from being lost. He called it a “heinous and unforgivable crime.” Adam Garcia, the university police chief, said in the press conference that two officers engaged the suspect in a “shootout.”
In an initial news briefing, the sheriff said the motive was not clear.
“There’s no further threat,” McMahill said. “We do have one suspect down. Of course, we have no idea of the motive. There are a number of victims who have been transported to area hospitals.”
The sheriff called it a “very active and dynamic scene.” A woman wrote on a Facebook comment thread, “I have two professor friends who are barricaded in their offices” and parents frantically shared information about their students’ whereabouts.
Video captured the scene aftermath.
Video showed armed police on a campus roof.
A student wrote on Facebook, “For those that don’t know, there was a bad shooting on the UNLV campus today. I am okay and safe but please if you know anyone that goes to UNLV and has in-person classes, please take the time today to check up on them and make sure they’re safe.”
Wrote another woman, “It definitely has been a crazy morning. The building in which the shots first started in is the building we have our morning meetings in. I’ve never been so thankful for a wisdom tooth.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Anthony Polito Was a ‘Career College Professor’ Who Unsuccessfully ‘Sought a Job at the School,’ Reports Say
According to CNN, the suspect is “a 67-year-old career college professor with connections to colleges in Georgia and North Carolina,” but it’s not clear whether he had any tie to UNLV. According to his deleted LinkedIn page, Polito received a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, a master of business administration from Duke University, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and statistics from Radford University in Virginia.
According to the Associated Press, though, the professor “unsuccessfully sought a job at the school.”
According to a police news release, at 11:45 a.m., officers received a report of a shooting on the campus. They identified the gunfire as coming from Beam Hall and “immediately made entry.”
Near the main entrance, they encountered the suspect, Anthony James Polito, exiting. He shot at officers, and they returned fire, striking Polito multiple times.
He died at the scene. Two victims were located on the third floor of Beam Hall and one was located on the fourth floor. All were deceased. A fourth victim was injured by gunshots on the fifth floor but made it to the ground floor.
Polito had a hit list of “possible targeted individuals,” but none of the victims was on the list, according to police.
Before the shooting, Polito dropped off 22 pieces of mail to various university personnel at the post office across the country with no return address. At his residence, police found a document similar to a last will and testament, the press release says.
A former student wrote a recommendation on his LinkedIn page, saying, “I had the chance to have Dr. Polito as my teacher for my Operations Management course that I took in fall 2013. I was an international student from Canada at the time and learned many new things in his course. Dr. Polito teaches students about things that happen in the real world that we will be able to apply in our careers. He definitely knows his course material and every new class covers interesting topics. One of the best teachers I’ve had so far!”
Polito wrote on his website, “Dr. Polito also devoted three years early-on in his career to instructing mathematics within a multicultural, high-need, urban high school. While there, he revitalized the Chess Club, increasing membership over two years from 12 to 120 students and cultivated a competitive team that traveled the state, quickly capturing a number of trophies at regional and state competitions … as well as the attention of area media.”
On his website, he listed his music and literary interests. “Currently I subscribe to only four magazines: Our State, Consumer Reports and Atomic Ranch,” he wrote. “A couple of readings a while back that I found interesting were Prisoner’s Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb and Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century. In general, I tend towards such serious non-fiction.”
A former student, Erick Smithwick, told WRAL, “He was a very affable, fun-loving, easy to get along with professor. [He was] not threatening … he cared about his students and wanted his students to engage with his lecturing.”
2. Anthony Polito Previously Worked at East Carolina University in North Carolina for More Than 15 Years, Where Students Praised Him for Injecting Real-World Examples Into His Business Classes
The professor previously worked at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, according to his LinkedIn page, which described him as an associate professor there from 2001 through January 2017.
“Large public university serving the region located east of Raleigh & Research Triangle Park to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Approximate enrollment: 25,000 students & 1,500 faculty,” he wrote.
A biography page on his website says, “Dr. Polito’s academic instructional affiliations include The University of Georgia, University of Northern Iowa, East Carolina University, Wake Forest University, Roseman University of Health Sciences and Brenau University. During his academic career, Dr. Polito has directly instructed nearly 6,000 undergraduate or graduate students of management; the majority of his students evaluated the quality/effectiveness of his instruction above 4.5 on a 5.0 scale, over 80% evaluated such above a 4.0.”
The page adds, “Dr. Polito has contributed to academic/intellectual knowledge in the form of 15 journal publications, 34 conference proceedings and 26 conference presentation.”
On LinkedIn, Polito wrote, “The greatest gifts and takeaways I possess from my many years within higher education are the many kind & positive comments students made regarding my instruction and disposition toward them.” He shared a PDF document with positive student comments about himself on the social media platform.
Under the class “Operations & Supply Chain Management,” for example, Polito wrote that students said things about him like, “The business lessons Dr. Polito brings to the class are invaluable. He looks at everything from a different point of view that is refreshing” and “Dr. Polito is very knowledgeable. He uses real world examples to bring together the lectures. Information is presented in a way that is easy to understand.”
He taught classes in the College of Business at East Carolina University, the document indicates. At UNLV, the gunman targeted the business school, according to the sheriff.
3. Anthony Polito Claimed He Solved the Zodiac Killer Cipher, Insisting in a Document That He Was Not a ‘Total Crackpot’ & Belonged to MENSA
On the website Tony Polito.com, Polito wrote in a lengthy 2014 discussion of the Zodiac Killer’s cipher,
For 45 years, the decoding of the 18 alphanumeric characters from Zodiac’s first 408-symbol cipher—which Zodiac stated twice would reveal his identity—has eluded a solution by any and all cryptographers, professional or otherwise. I present here my decoding of those 18 characters—which indeed plainly reveal Zodiac’s true identity.
The 408 Cipher was “signed” by “Mister” Arthur Leigh Allen. Allen is indeed the major Zodiac suspect as portrayed in the 2007 Zodiac movie, in turn based on Zodiac expert Robert Graysmith’s books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked.
According to USA Today, Arthur Leigh Allen was “a schoolteacher in Vallejo, California” and “is the only suspect to be publicly named by authorities in the case of the Zodiac killer. Allen was institutionalized for sexually abusing children in 1975. He was never officially identified as the Zodiac killer,” who killed five people and then mailed codes to the news media.
Polito wrote in his treatise’s introduction,
Just so you won’t initially write off my solution as that of a total crackpot, let me first say that I have been a member of MENSA for 35 years, I hold a double undergraduate degree in Mathematics & Statistics (two skills closely associated with successful cryptographers) … and I hold a masters degree and a doctoral degree from top-tier universities as well. So I am not a dumb guy! To be fair, I must state that I do NOT have any special expertise or experience in the field of cryptography, only a general and basic knowledge of it … and neither am I an expert or especially accomplished mathematician and/or statistician.
4. Tony Polito Expressed an Affinity for Alfred Hitchcock Movies
On his website, Polito wrote that he was particularly interested in Alfred Hitchcock movies.
“I recommend that everyone should see the classic ‘blonde’ Hitchcock films: Marnie, North by Northwest, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo. The complex and meticulous symbolism Hitchcock wove into these films through the dualities, the colors, the flowers, the jewelry, the costuming, the ‘flawed’ male versus the icy blonde – it’s all just very fascinating,” he wrote on his website.
“I discovered that François Truffaut ‘borrowed’ large parts of the storyline and imagery of Vertigo … and then threw in some Marnie for good measure … to develop La Sirène du Mississippi … but even in casting Catherine Deneuve as the cool blonde, Truffaut’s product simply didn’t measure up to Hitch quality.”
5. A Student Said the Active Shooter Was in the Business Building
A student described to ABC News how a window was “shot through.” She said the shooter was in the business building on the second floor.
UNLV wrote, “Please shelter in place. This remains an active investigation. The suspect has been contained, according to police.”
Around 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, UNLV wrote, “Continue to shelter-in-place. Police Services continues to respond and clear buildings systematically. UNLV and all NSHE institutions statewide are closed for the remainder of the night. All classes and events are canceled.”
In their initial statement, police wrote: “#BREAKING We are responding to preliminary reports of an #ActiveShooter on the campus of UNLV near BEAM Hall. There appears to be multiple victims at this time. Please avoid the area and we will have more information soon.”
In addition to Beam Hall, the university said shots were fired at the student union, writing, “University Police responding to additional report of shots fired in the Student Union, evacuate the area, RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.” They also wrote, “University Police responding to confirmed active shooter in BEH. This is not a test. RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.”
“The suspect has been located and is deceased,” Las Vegas Metropolitan Police wrote on X. The suspect’s name, motive and any affiliation to campus was not released as the situation was still unfolding.
Shortly before that post, the police wrote, “The suspect is contained. This is an active investigation. Please continue to avoid the area and watch for responding emergency units.”