UNLV gunman wrote about Zodiac killer, vanished Malaysia Airlines flight, conspiracy theories

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 7, 2023 - A tenant takes in the scene as police still stake out the complex where UNLV shooter Anthony Polito lived at the Promontory Point Apartments in Henderson a day after three died and one person injured in a mass shooting at the UNLV campus on December 7, 2023. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A tenant takes in the scene Thursday morning at the Promontory Point Apartments in Henderson, Nev., where the gunman who killed three people at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, lived. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

One day after a mass shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, left three people and the gunman dead, a picture emerged of a quiet, lonesome academic with obsessive tendencies who was upset by being rejected for a position at the university, according to law enforcement sources, neighbors and the man's personal website.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Sheriff Kevin McMahill identified the shooter as Anthony Polito, 67, a professor who had taught at East Carolina University.

"We know he applied numerous times for a job with several Nevada institutions and was denied each time," McMahill said at a news conference Thursday.

Polito had been charged with criminal trespass in Virginia in 1992, the sheriff said. The shooter had a list of people he was looking for at UNLV, as well as at the college in North Carolina where he previously worked.

A dashboard camera in his vehicle revealed to investigators that before Wednesday's shooting, Polito went to a post office and mailed 22 letters to academic officials with no return address.

Police recovered the letters and the first one opened "had an unknown white powder substance in it," McMahill said. He urged caution to academic officials nationwide who receive any mail without a return address.

On his personal website, Polito wrote at length about his favorite topics, rarely failing to mention membership in the Mensa society for people with high IQs.

The writings revealed an obsessive nature: hundreds of organized links to favorite articles, games, things to do in Las Vegas and more.

Read more: UNLV shooter had a list of targets, along with a 9-millimeter gun and extra ammo

The website included a 109-page document of praise purportedly given by past students at a business school in North Carolina.

It also included hints of delusion. In a 2014 self-published essay, Polito — despite no expertise in the field — claimed he was the first to solve the Zodiac killer's cryptography. "Let me first say that I have been a member of MENSA for 35 years," he wrote, then gave credentials including "a masters degree and a doctoral degree from top-tier universities."

He concluded: "So I am not a dumb guy!"

In another essay, about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that went missing with 239 people aboard in 2014, Polito wrote baselessly that "government/media disinformation was dispersed to suppress public realization that MH370 had been hijacked" in order "to suppress the actual location of the wreckage."

In a section of the website titled "Powerful Organzations Bent on Global Domination!" he linked to a number of conspiracy theories, including a film by right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones about the "globalists' dark agenda" and a YouTube video promoting antisemitic tropes about the Rothschild family.

On his YouTube profile, Polito subscribed to a number of conservative accounts that dabbled in conspiracy theories, some associated with former President Trump, Paul Joseph Watson and Dave Rubin.

He referred to himself as "Dr. Polito" in documents, citing a doctorate in operations management from the University of Georgia.

Read more: In wake of UNLV, how California colleges gird against active shooters

Polito wrote that he took dozens of trips to Las Vegas before moving there. "Over those years, my steel trap mind collected more information and trivia about Vegas than probably anyone in this state east of I-95 (at least)!"

On Wednesday night, hours after the shooting, investigators searched his apartment in Henderson with the aid of a SWAT team.

At the apartment, "there was a notice of eviction taped to the front door," McMahill said. The shooter left a document "similar to a last will and testament."

Neighbors said Polito, older and well-dressed, had always stood out from the other younger residents in the apartment complex about eight miles from UNLV’s campus. His business attire and briefcase — along with his black license plate that read "KAPEESH" — had led some of the neighbors to refer to him as “mafia dude.” He didn’t like small talk.

“He’s very quiet, lived like a hermit,” said Anthony James Carew, 42, who said Polito had been his neighbor since he moved in six years ago. “I've never seen the guy have a conversation with anybody.”

Read more: UNLV students build makeshift barricades as gunman opens fire

Roni Torres, a 27-year-old teacher, said she always parked her car next to Polito's. She would sometimes see him sitting alone in the vehicle when she and her boyfriend left for the gym at 3:30 in the morning.

She assumed he worked for a casino with his late hours and penchant for slacks and long-sleeved white shirts.

“He would never say hi,” she said. “I would even mention to my boyfriend that he wasn't very friendly. He seemed very off.”

The morning of the shooting, Greg Gibson, who has lived in the complex for half a year, said he caught Polito's eye.

“He seemed agitated. That’s why I noticed him,” said Gibson, 43. “He was pacing, smoking the cigarette and looked unusual, stressed out. I was like, ‘This doesn't look good.'”

Gibson said he gave the man a nod. But he looked back with what Gibson described as a “thousand-yard stare.”

Ellis reported from Las Vegas, and Castleman reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.