According to university authorities, a University of Arizona professor was shot and died in an office on campus on Wednesday. Charges have been brought against a former university student.
Thomas Meixner, the university’s head of the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences, who was remembered by many as a nice and intelligent guy, was shot and killed, which saddened those who knew him. When the university sent out alerts, it terrified the campus community as students tried to hide inside rooms and ran from courses. And it rekindled national worries about some of the dangers that can exist in the demanding and occasionally dangerous world of academia.
According to the University of Arizona Police Department, Murad Dervish, 46, was detained hours after the shooting and charged Thursday with first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. On Thursday, a representative for campus police claimed that the reason was not immediately clear.
The event developed rapidly. According to campus police, a guy entered the John W. Harshbarger Building on Wednesday just before 2:00 p.m. At 1:59, someone called the police to report that a former pupil who wasn’t supposed to be there had entered and asked them to take him out.
Dervish was ejected in February, according to documents submitted to Pima County Justice Court, and staff members were instructed to phone 911 in case he returned to school.
According to court documents, “Dervish has been the target of multiple reports of harassment and threats to staff employees working at Harshbarger,” and was forbidden from owning a firearm due to an earlier unrelated protection order.
Dervish was subject to a campus exclusionary order, but it had not yet been implemented because officers were unable to find him, according to Sgt. Sean Shields, a spokesman for the University of Arizona Police Department.
The department subsequently received a second call reporting gunfire inside the structure. According to campus police, the suspect was reported to have fled from the building’s main door at 2:07 p.m.
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Approximately four 9mm bullets struck Meixner, according to court records. A bullet fragment injured another worker in the office; he received treatment and was later let go. Authorities said in the court papers that Dervish was recognised as the shooter by a person familiar with him.
Meixner was brought to the hospital, where doctors declared him dead.
According to the court filings, Dervish was detained by authorities three hours later as he was travelling south of Gila Bend, Arizona toward Mexico. According to the records, a 9mm handgun was discovered in his car, loaded with ammunition that matched the roughly 11-round casings discovered at the Tucson crime scene.
Dervish’s legal representative could not be found right away.
Before being questioned by police, Dervish reportedly said: “I hope he’s okay, probably wishful thinking,” according to court documents.
Dervish admitted that he had thought about killing himself.
And according to the records, he added, “I just felt so mistreated by that entire department.”
Meixner was a well-known figure on campus who had spent a lot of time at the university.
Tom Meixner had been a colleague and friend for 15 years, according to Xubin Zeng, a professor in the department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. “Tom was constantly smiling – that’s my first impression of Tom,” Zeng said. He always treated people with kindness.
According to Zeng, who claimed to have taught Dervish, the department’s staff members are astonished, dismayed, and furious.
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Meixner’s contributions to science as a whole were remembered and honoured, but perhaps more so were his achievements as a mentor, friend, role model, and family man.
He had been friends with Paul Brooks, a professor of hydrology at the University of Utah, since graduate school. He really was a superb interdisciplinary scientist, Brooks added, able to combine chemistry, hydrology, and biology for extremely interesting work.
“But the most important thing about Tom is he was such a powerful force for good in science and academia in a very competitive world where things often aren’t fair, and where people work very hard and maybe aren’t acknowledged to the level they should be. He was really kind and helpful to everyone.
As a star-struck postdoctoral student, Rebecca Barnes, an AAAS science technology policy scholar with the National Science Foundation, first met Meixner. Barnes remarked, “Knowing individuals in all these different periods of our lives is one of the amazing things about being a scientist. But it also means that our community is very sensitive to these losses.
She said Meixner was warmly supportive of efforts to make science more equitable and inclusive and remembered him enthusiastically — in all caps — promoting a colleague’s work when Barnes was creating Wikipedia pages to highlight women in STEM fields.
“He was one of those people who is both very smart and very nice, and that’s who you want in science,” she said. “You want them educating the future generation,” someone said.
Adam Ward, the head of the biological and ecological engineering department at Oregon State University, said the incident shocked and upset him not only because he liked and admired Meixner, a fellow hydrologist, but because he saw it as part of the threat that scientists are increasingly facing.
He said police had once intervened when a student Ward had known moved from talking about killing Ward and his family members to showing up at his home and their workplaces. He had to talk to his children’s school principals, he said, about court orders banning the stalker from the area.
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Faculty and students can have complicated relations, Ward said, because they often work closely together and faculty can have so much influence over a student’s future. Graduate school “is a complicated and emotionally charged time in people’s lives,” he said.
Meixner, who grew up in Maryland, graduated from the University of Maryland in 1992, according to his faculty homepage, and earned his doctorate in hydrology in 1999 from the University of Arizona.
Christopher L. Castro, the associate department head, did not immediately respond to a request for comment but posted on social media about the loss, writing that he was devastated. “Beyond his professional contributions to hydrology, Tom was a father and an exemplary human being. Praying for all who mourn, especially his family. I will miss you forever, my dear friend.”
Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey (R), said in a tweet that the state is praying for Meixner’s family and friends.
The campus resumed in-person classes Thursday.
On Friday evening, the university planned to hold a candlelight vigil to honour Meixner.
In a video to campus Friday, university president Robert C. Robbins said Meixner’s contributions to the university and the lasting impressions he made on countless students would not be forgotten.
“He was a devoted husband and father whose work focused on saving the world’s most precious resources,” Robbins said. “One of the last things he shared with his community was the quote, ‘Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.’ ”
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