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Police: Man in custody in Colorado over alleged threats to UCLA

UCLA Threats
David Zalubowski
/
AP
Police vehicles sit in front of University Hill Elementary School across from the campus of the University of Colorado after a man accused of making mass shooting threats against the college as well as the University of California, Los Angeles, was arrested Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. The police operation caused the evacuation of the elementary school and shelter-in-place orders for nearby residents on Boulder's University Hill.

A man who allegedly threatened the University of California, Los Angeles, and detailed potential violence against the prominent university over hundreds of pages has been taken into custody in Colorado following a standoff Tuesday.

The man — identified as Matthew Christopher Harris, 31 — was taken into custody Tuesday morning and is being held in Colorado on state charges after a standoff with police in Boulder. Federal charges may be pursued.

It wasn’t immediately known if Harris had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. Authorities were searching his Boulder apartment.

“Upon reviewing parts of the manifesto, we identified thousands of references to violence, stating things such as killing, death, murder, shootings, bombs, schoolyard massacre in Boulder and phrases like ‘burn and attack Boulder outside of the university,’” Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said at a news conference Tuesday.

Herold said authorities believe Harris had a connection in Boulder “but we're just not sure of the magnitude of the relationships here at this time.”

Harris was taken into custody Tuesday morning after negotiators spoke to him by phone, Herold said.

Law enforcement evacuated a nearby school, as well as University of Colorado Boulder fraternity and sorority buildings during the incident. Residents in 65 homes were told to shelter in place.

It’s unclear if Harris has any ties to the University of Colorado Boulder, and the university did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

Authorities said he attempted to buy a handgun in November but his purchase was denied. Officials believe the transaction did not go through because of a California-based protection order that said he could not purchase or possess a firearm.

UCLA officials said in-person classes — which had been canceled Tuesday — will return on Wednesday.

UCLA police had reached out to Boulder law enforcement on Monday about the threats and Harris potentially living in Colorado. Herold said police had contact with Harris in October, though no criminal charges were filed and authorities are reviewing their reports from that encounter.

A records search by The Associated Press did not immediately show any criminal records. The records tie Harris to a Los Angeles apartment building in 2020, and listed previous addresses in North Carolina and New Jersey.

Harris began working at UCLA in the spring of 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow, according to a newsletter from the university’s philosophy department. His focus was on “philosophy of race, personal identity, and related issues in philosophy of mind.”

On bruinwalk.com, a website where UCLA students can post anonymous reviews of professors and other staff members, students gave Harris low ratings. In one review, a student who took the class in winter 2021 wrote that Harris is “extremely unprofessional.”

Another review, by a student who had the class in spring 2020, called the course “Easily my least favorite class at ucla ever.”

“I have no idea how this guy is still teaching,” the student wrote.

Harris completed his dissertation, “Continents in Cognition,” at Duke University in 2019. His Ph.D. supervisor did not immediately return AP’s request for comment on Tuesday.

UCLA took the step of switching to remote learning a day after students returned to in-person instruction and said the move was made out of an abundance of caution. UCLA tweeted overnight that in-person classes were canceled Tuesday after a “concerning email and posting” were sent to members of the university community.

“The threats made yesterday were frightening for many of us and caused our community to feel vulnerable at an already challenging time,” said a statement Tuesday signed by Assistant Vice Chancellors Suzanne L. Seplow and Michael Deluca.

“UCLA Police Department is aware of a concerning email and posting sent to some members of the UCLA community today and actively engaged with out-of-state law enforcement and federal agencies,” the university said in a series of overnight social media posts.

The Los Angeles Times reported that it obtained emails that were sent to students and faculty showing that authorities are investigating a former UCLA lecturer who allegedly sent a video referencing a mass shooting and an 800-page manifesto with threats against individuals in the philosophy department.

UCLA’s postings did not confirm the details of the Times’ report but said: “Out-of-state law enforcement has confirmed the person who made threats to UCLA is under observation & not in CA. Classes will remain remote today.”

The university on social media posted telephone numbers for students, faculty and staff seeking counseling.

Considered one of the top public universities in the country, UCLA is located in the affluent Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. The university has more than 31,000 undergraduate students and 14,000 graduate students.

UCLA's threats appear to be unrelated to bomb threats made Monday — one day before the start of Black History Month — to at least a half-dozen historically Black universities in five states and the District of Columbia, FBI Los Angeles spokesperson Laura Eimiller said.

The UCLA campus was rocked by a shooting in 2016 when a former student killed his estranged wife in a Minneapolis suburb and traveled to UCLA, where he fatally shot an engineering professor who had been his mentor and then killed himself.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved.