Professors Naoko Takemaru, Cha Jan Chang among victims of UNLV shooting

Professors Naoko Takemaru, Cha Jan Chang among victims of UNLV shooting
via University of Nevada Las Vegas

Gunman Anthony Polito, 67, targeted faculty members in the campus’s Beam Hall on Dec. 6

December 15, 2023
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University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) professors Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang and Naoko Takemaru were among the three victims killed in the recent shooting incident on campus. 
About the shooting: At around 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 6, gunman Anthony Polito, 67, targeted faculty members in the campus’s Beam Hall, opening fire on the fourth floor of the Lee Business School. Polito, who carried a .9mm handgun and 11 ammunition magazines, reportedly fired while carrying a list of intended targets that included professors at UNLV and East Carolina University, none of whom were struck by his bullets.
During his rampage, Polito struck and killed business professors Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39, and Chang, 64, and associate professor Takemaru, 69. Another victim, a 38-year-old visiting professor, reportedly survived the attack and was rushed to a hospital. The incident marks the 80th school shooting in the United States so far this year, surpassing the previous year’s record of 79 incidents during the same timeframe. 
Polito’s death and investigation: Polito was later killed in a gunfire exchange with the police when he rushed out of the building. According to police, the gunman left documents at his home indicating his intention to die during the mass shooting. Investigators discovered additional ammunition and a chair with an arrow pointing to a document resembling a last will and testament. Police said that the gun used in the shooting was legally purchased last year.
Possible motive: Prior to the shooting, Polito sent 22 letters with tainted white powder to scholars in various colleges nationwide. Polito, who was an associate business professor from August 2001 to January 2017, had faced repeated employment rejection by universities in Nevada. 
via LinkedIn
According to police, his financial struggles were evident as a notice of eviction was found taped to his apartment door. Although his motive remains unclear, police suggested a possible connection between his actions and his academic rejections. Authorities stated that Polito did not target students, but there is speculation that he might have moved towards the nearby student union building during the shooting.
Remembering Chang: Although the university had canceled classes for the semester, students, faculty and staff gathered to honor the three victims on Wednesday. Chang, who was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, was a professor in the school’s Department of Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology. He spent more than 20 years of his academic career teaching UNLV Lee Business School students. Chang is remembered for his “gentle nature” and for a unique quirk — he did not own or use a cell phone. This choice reflected his commitment to being present for students and prioritizing personal connections.
“Jerry was a rigorous researcher and a good teacher who deeply loved his students and UNLV,” his wife Keah-Choon Tan, a professor of operations management, told UNLV. “In fact, he loved UNLV so much that he and his wife discussed some time ago the idea that he would like to donate his body to research. This is a true testament to how much he loved teaching, research, UNLV, and higher education.”
Chang leaves behind his wife and their two children.
Remembering Takemaru: Takemaru was an associate professor of Japanese Studies who was reportedly hired by UNLV in 2003 to develop its Japanese language program, according to her colleague Margaret Harp. 
“Naoko was a triple-threat artist,” Harp said at a news conference. “She was a professional concert pianist who left that career due to physical disabilities. She embroidered beautifully, creating her own designs. And every holiday season, she brought us her homemade chocolates.” 
This year marked her 20th year at the university. Her student, Devon Whitaker, described Takemaru as a delightful and caring individual who deeply invested in her students’ success. 
“She was a bundle of joy to be around and work with,” Whitaker told UNLV. “She cared a lot about her students and wanted her students to do well. She motivated me to be a better student. There’s a phrase in the Japanese language — do your best — and she pretty much ended every class with that phrase and motivated me that much more; not just with her classes and degree program, but just to do my best.”
Remembering Navarro-Velez: Originally from Puerto Rico, Navarro-Velez is remembered for her “larger-than-life” personality. She joined the UNLV Accounting family in 2019 after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Central Florida. 
“Pat immediately made a positive impact in the lives of students and her colleagues,” said UNLV Accounting chair Jason Smith. “She had a larger-than-life personality, an infectious smile, and a genuine kindness that made everyone around her feel like family.”
The incident remains under investigation. 
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      Michelle De Pacina

      Michelle De Pacina
      is a New York-based Reporter for NextShark

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