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A UA prof ready to be shot on campus and barely prevented it


In January, Eyad Atallah was already feeling so threatened by a grad scholar in his division on the College of Arizona that he purchased himself a bullet-proof vest.

Atallah, an assistant professor of apply, was planning to put on the vest when he taught lessons within the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences Division, nevertheless it was too cumbersome.

“I used to be making an attempt to check if I might conceal it below my garments,” Atallah advised me Wednesday. “I spotted that wasn’t going to work. My thought course of was that I shouldn’t put on it, as a result of if he can inform that I’m sporting it, he’s simply going to shoot me within the head. In any other case, no less than if he shoots me someplace else, I would dwell.”

These had been the calculations that Atallah, a self-described “climate nerd,” was going by simply to maintain instructing lessons like Dynamic Meteorology II on the UA 9 months in the past. The person he feared was Murad Dervish, then a graduate scholar on his solution to expulsion from the UA. Dervish had handled Atallah as a kind of confidante but in addition had despatched him many menacing textual content messages.

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Now Dervish is charged with murdering division head Thomas Meixner Oct. 5 within the Harshbarger Constructing the place Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences was primarily based. He has pleaded not responsible. Atallah is satisfied that Dervish was seeking to discover him that day, too.

Atallah determined to inform me his story though he doesn’t have tenure and works on year-long instructing contracts. Sitting within the downtown workplace of his lawyer, Priscilla Frisby, accompanied by his brother Amjad, Atallah stated he’s talking out now for a similar purpose he reported Dervish to the dean of scholars in January, though he assumed it will make him a goal .


“What else can I do?” he stated. “I didn’t cease this occasion — possibly one thing that we discuss, one thing that’s legislated, one thing that’s completed policy-wise, makes this not occur once more.”

Atallah’s story reinforces the primary concern about Meixner’s demise — that one thing extra ought to have been completed to guard college college students and staff from a identified and reported risk. However it additionally provides key particulars. Amongst them:

Though Meixner was Catholic, his killing may very well be thought of an anti-Semitic assault. Dervish was satisfied that Meixner was Jewish.

The threats felt by Atallah not solely price him his sense of safety but in addition cash, as he sought to guard himself.

Dervish prevented straight threatening individuals, making it tougher for prosecutors to press a case towards him.

‘I used to be basically a hostage’

Atallah received to know Dervish when he was a scholar in Atallah’s small Climate Evaluation and Forecasting class in fall, 2021. A fellow “climate geek,” as Atallah termed him, Dervish would go to Atallah in his workplace to speak about climate.

Issues had been regular for a few months, till Dervish received right into a battle with a distinct school member over a grade. That’s when Dervish started contacting Atallah and searching for recommendation, Atallah stated, exhibiting quite a few textual content messages.

“I feel I used to be for him the one level of contact he had,” Atallah stated. He later realized Dervish, “didn’t have any non secular affiliation. He didn’t have associates in Tucson. And he was estranged from his household.”

Atallah invited Dervish and different grad college students who won’t have wherever to go over to his home for Thanksgiving, a transfer he later regretted.

“This created issues down the highway, he stated. “It meant he had been to my home.”

Eyad Atallah, a professor in atmospheric sciences on the College of Arizona, says he stored bear spray, a utility flashlight and a bat by the facet of his mattress after he began receiving threatening textual content messages from Murad Dervish, a former scholar.

However issues didn’t actually blow up till the division, led by Meixner, advised Dervish they weren’t retaining him as a instructing assistant for spring semester.

“I used to be making an attempt to get him to give attention to authorized issues, as a result of I used to be beginning to get the impression that this was going to develop into an even bigger and greater subject, due to the obsessive nature of his communications with me,” Atallah stated. Over Christmas break, “He would name me three or 4 occasions a day.”

It received a lot worse in January. On Jan. 11, Atallah stated, Dervish advised him he had completed a background search about Atallah and Meixner on the web site, and the outcome stated that Meixner was Jewish. After that, a lot of his textual content messages, which Atallah shared with me, had been anti-Semitic, accusing Meixner of orchestrating a Jewish- and Asian-led conspiracy towards him, accusing Atallah of cooperating, wishing demise on all Jews.

“As Arabs we’re supposed to stay collectively and I trusted you, and as an alternative you’re a dirty ok*** lover who’s been deceived by them, however I actually can’t blame you, they’re very misleading. I’d hate to search out out you had been 1 of them,” Dervish wrote on Jan. 14.

“You’re completely both a ok*** or doing their bidding.”

Of Meixner, he wrote: “To be sincere, I feel you’re mendacity about him being Christian, I’ve by no means seen one act like that even the pretend ones!!”

These texts prompted Atallah to warn Meixner that he was in peril. However he determined to proceed the dialogue to observe the hazard that he thought Dervish posed.

“I knew I used to be basically a hostage,” Atallah stated final week. “And I knew that when he came upon I used to be reporting this, that my life was in peril.”

‘He would have the drop on me’

Atallah moved to Tucson at the start of fall semester 2019 to take a place on the UA, after 15 years at McGill College in Montreal. When the COVID-19 pandemic took maintain, he moved his mom, who’s widowed, right here from the Washington D.C. space, and so they dwell collectively in a house that they had constructed.

After the anti-Semitic, conspiratorial texts began coming throughout, and Atallah reported them to the dean of scholars, he began growing his safety on the home. He began carrying bear spray and a flashlight with a window-breaking device. He purchased the ballistic vest. And he thought of shopping for a gun. The safety measures he took, he estimated, price $1,000 to $1,500.

Eyad Atallah put in an costly safety door at his dwelling after he began receiving threatening textual content messages from Murad Dervish, a former scholar.

“I thought of (carrying a gun) though I wasn’t allowed. However I’m not a gun individual, by no means have been, and I do know my mother hates the thought of getting one in the home,” Atallah stated. “On the finish I at all times knew that he would have the drop on me. He would open the door to my workplace or stroll in.”

“My hope was simply that I used to be going to see him earlier than he noticed me.”

Martha Whitaker, an affiliate professor of hydrology within the division, advised me that round this time she realized Atallah was fearing for his life. They started making preparations for Whitaker to get Atallah’s home keys in order that she might deal with his cats in case the worst occurred.

Atallah and his mom stayed at a resort when there have been doubtlessly triggering occasions occurring in Dervish’s disciplinary case on the UA, Atallah stated. Additionally they stayed a few days at a home that the affiliate head of the division, Prof. Christopher Castro, discovered for them.

The college additionally took some steps. They quickly moved the division’s lessons out of the Harshbarger Constructing, however by then Atallah was barely exhibiting up on campus.

“I’d actually go to the college, train my class, stroll again to my automobile and drive dwelling,” he stated. “Each time I used to be strolling on campus I’d stroll and do 360s each few steps.”

“I discovered it tough to operate. I felt like a hostage who was making an attempt to barter my very own launch. And I didn’t really feel certified to try this.”

Impression sensors on doorways and home windows on the dwelling of Eyad Atallah.

‘Penalties might be completely catastrophic’

On Monday, UA President Robert Robbins responded to criticism that the UA didn’t do sufficient to guard Meixner in addition to colleagues like Castro and Atallah by placing out an all-campus memo outlining the steps the college did take. He has additionally ordered an investigation by exterior specialists. Among the many issues the college did do: The College of Arizona Police Division introduced misdemeanor circumstances towards Dervish to the Pima County Legal professional’s Workplace in April and once more in September.

With that, blame appeared to shift to the prosecutors downtown. Pima County Legal professional Laura Conover put out a information launch Monday night acknowledging the circumstances.

“Each occasions these issues got our full consideration,” she stated. “Nonetheless, in neither occasion did the info of the criticism meet the evidentiary necessities for charging him with the crime of Threats and Intimidation at the moment below A.R.S. 13-1202.”

Atallah believes Dervish, who had beforehand been convicted of crimes and hung out in jail, intentionally prevented making direct threats. Essentially the most direct risk he ever made to Atallah was to textual content, “I hope anyone blows your (expletive) brains out.”

In different texts to Atallah, Dervish sought to make clear whether or not college officers stated he “threatened” anyone “or simply used threatening language?”

And police reviews launched by the Pima County Legal professional’s Workplace final week, in response to public information requests, present Dervish cursed out a UA administrator in an April 14 e mail, saying the division “wants to repair your personal horrible selections.”

“For those who don’t I promise the implications might be completely catastrophic,” he stated to shut the e-mail.

College police visited him at dwelling the subsequent day and advised him they had been citing him for threats and intimidation, the costs that the Pima County Legal professional’s Workplace later determined to not pursue.

The day after that, April 16, Dervish wrote again to the administrator and stated, “I suppose I ought to apologize, I used to be referring to authorized motion.”

“In my conversations with him, it was clear that he understood the distinction between making a risk that was legally actionable versus being menacing,” Atallah stated.

‘I simply don’t in my coronary heart really feel that this was unavoidable’

The day that Dervish is accused of going to the Harshbarger Buildling and taking pictures Meixner was, coincidentally or not, Yom Kippur, the holiest day within the Jewish calendar. The college had gone that morning to a memorial service for a graduate scholar who dedicated suicide Sept. 14 within the Harshbarger Constructing.

Atallah stated he stayed in his workplace for an hour or two earlier than leaving for dwelling. However this was the brand new workplace Meixner had given him after Dervish was expelled, not the workplace Dervish knew. Now graduate college students had been within the outdated one.

These college students advised Atallah after the taking pictures that Dervish first went to Atallah’s outdated workplace and requested the grad college students the place Atallah was.

“I both left the constructing shortly earlier than he entered, or I left in between the time that he first entered and the time that he shot Tom,” Atallah stated.

Whitaker referred to as him as he drove up Mountain Avenue to warn him that there had been a taking pictures within the constructing and that Dervish was there.

“I needed to make certain he wasn’t within the workplace,” she stated. “I knew he was a goal.”

Like different school members who had been searching for safety from Dervish, Atallah was upset the afternoon of the taking pictures when he heard the brand new UA police chief, Paula Balafas, say at a information convention that such assaults aren’t predictable, and advise, “in the event you see one thing, don’t simply say one thing however do one thing. If you realize anyone is battling psychological well being or anger points, attain out.”

“That was a intestine punch,” he stated of Balafas’ feedback. He, Meixner, Castro and others had completed simply that for months as they struggled to guard themselves.

After studying Robbins’ assertion Monday, Atallah acknowledged that the college had taken some steps, however stated “it’s nonetheless doable to really feel deserted.” Certainly, Atallah and colleagues had been largely on their very own for 10 months, in his case spending cash on motels and safety in addition to residing like a hostage.

“My thoughts retains going again to, that somebody like this threatening a bunch of individuals for 10 months, after which killing — this sounds so horrible — fortunately solely one in all us, that may’t be thought of a fait accompli. It could actually’t be thought of an ‘Oh nicely, this stuff occur.’ I simply don’t in my coronary heart really feel that this was unavoidable.”

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and enhancing, he digs into points and tales that matter within the Tucson space, reviews the outcomes and tells you his conclusions. Contact him at [email protected] or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and enhancing, he digs into points and tales that matter within the Tucson space, reviews the outcomes and tells you his conclusions. Contact him at [email protected] or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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