University of Arizona professor shot dead; former student in custody

A University of Arizona professor was fatally shot in a campus office on Wednesday, said the university police. A former university student has been charged.

The shooting devastated those who knew Thomas Meixner, the head of the university’s department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences, described by many as a kind and brilliant man. It spooked the campus community as students fled classrooms and tried to barricade themselves in bedrooms when the university sent out alerts. And it has reignited nationwide concerns about some of the risks that can arise in academia.

Murad Dervish, 46, was taken into custody several hours after the shooting, University of Arizona Police Chief Paula Balafas said Wednesday.

Dervish was charged Thursday with first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a campus police spokesperson said. He said the motive is not yet known.

The incident happened quickly. A man entered the John W. Harshbarger Building around 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the University of Arizona Police Department. Someone called the police at 1:59 a.m. to say that a former student who was not permitted to enter the building had entered and requested that the police escort the man.

The department then received another call indicating that there had been a shooting in the building. At 2:07 p.m., police learned that the man had fled through the building’s main entrance.

Meixner was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Dervish, 46, was taken into custody at 5:10 p.m. Wednesday at a traffic stop outside Gila Bend, Ariz., about 120 miles northwest of the university’s campus.

sergeant. Sean Shields, a spokesman for the university’s police department, said Dervish was expelled the previous semester.

A campus exclusion order had been filled in to ban Dervish but he had not yet been served because police could not locate him, Shields said Thursday. Shields said he was unsure whether the exclusion order applied to the entire campus, a specific building or another area.

A lawyer for Dervish could not immediately be located.

On Thursday, many mourned Meixner, a longtime presence on the Tucson campus.

“Tom was always smiling – when I think of Tom, that’s my first impression,” said Xubin Zeng, a professor in the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences, who said Meixner had been a colleague and friend for 15 years. “He was always nice to everyone.”

Zeng said he had taught dervish and department members were shocked, saddened and angry.

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The wider scientific community has shared memories and tributes to Meixner’s research contributions, but more so to his personal contributions as a mentor, friend, role model and family man.

Paul Brooks, a professor of hydrology at the University of Utah, had been friends with him since grad school. “He was truly a gifted interdisciplinary scientist who could bridge chemistry, hydrology and biology for really meaningful and insightful work,” Brooks said.

“But the most important thing about Tom is that he was such a powerful force for good in science and academia in a very competitive world where things often aren’t fair, and people work very hard. hard and maybe not recognized at the level they should be. He was incredibly selfless and supportive of everyone.

Rebecca Barnes, a AAAS Science Technology Policy Fellow with the National Science Foundation, said she first met Meixner as a dazzled postdoctoral student. “One of the amazing things about being a scientist is knowing people at all these different stages of our lives,” Barnes said. “But it also means that our community, we feel these losses very hard.”

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 created Wikipedia pages to highlight the women in STEM fields.

“He was one of those very smart and very kind people, and that’s what you want in science,” she said. “It’s who you want to train the next generation.”

Meixner, who grew up in Maryland, graduated from the University of Maryland in 1992, according to her faculty homepage, and earned her doctorate in hydrology in 1999 from the University of Arizona.

Christopher L. Castro, the associate department chief, 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 an exemplary father and human being. Pray to all who mourn, especially his family. I will miss you forever, my dear friend.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) said in a tweet May the state pray for Meixner’s family and friends.

The campus resumed in-person classes on Thursday.

In a message to campus, University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins wrote, “This incident is a profound shock to our community, and it is a tragedy. I have no words to undo it, but I mourn with you for the loss, and I’m especially sorry for Tom’s family members, colleagues and students.

Robbins added, “Safety on campus is and will remain our top priority.”

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

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