UA hydrology Prof. Thomas Meixner killed by ex-student, arrest made near Gila Bend
Recently evicted suspect arrested 3 hours after fatal shooting, 120 miles from university scene
University of Arizona Prof. Thomas Meixner was shot and killed Wednesday by a former student, officials and sources said. Three hours later, the suspect — who was evicted last week — was arrested outside Gila Bend, about 120 miles away.
Meixner, 52, was head of the UA's Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and noted for his work on the water quality of desert rivers.
Law enforcement officials refused to release the name of the victim Wednesday evening, but UA sources with knowledge of the fatal incident confirmed that Meixner was killed.
More than an hour after this report was published, UA officials announced Meixner's killing, with President Robert Robbins saying "we have lost a beloved member of our University of Arizona community."
"This incident is a deep shock to our community, and it is a tragedy. I have no words that can undo it, but I grieve with you for the loss, and I am pained especially for Tom’s family members, colleagues and students," Robbins wrote.
UA Police Chief Paula Balafas told reporters earlier that a male professor had been shot with a handgun in an office at the Harshbarger Building on campus around 2 p.m.
Balafas repeatedly refused to name the victim of the fatal shooting during a press conference at 5:30 p.m.
"We are not releasing that name," she said, saying it would be up to the hospital or Pima County Medical Examiner to identify the professor who was killed. "We are the lead agency," she acknowledged, but declined to release that information.
Multiple university sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to the Sentinel that Meixner was the professor who was shot on campus.
The man arrested was identified as Murad Dervish, a 46-year-old former student, Balafas told reporters. He was taken into custody around 5:10 p.m. during a traffic stop just outside Gila Bend by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Read the full Thursday update: Man charged with 1st degree murder in shooting death of UA Prof. Tom Meixner
Just one minute before 2 p.m., UA police received a phone call about a "former student" in the building, which houses the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, 1133 E. James E. Rogers Way, just south of East 2nd Street and next to the Yuma Residence Hall, Balafas said.
Meixner's office was in that building, UA listings show. Dervish was a former graduate student in the department, who was fired as a teaching assistant last year and then expelled from the school after confrontations with professors, sources told the Sentinel.
The caller, whose name was not made public, reported that they wanted the person "escorted from the building," the university police chief told reporters. The alleged shooter had previously been barred from the building, she said, but did not detail why.
While officers were en route, a call at 2:06 p.m. reported the shooting, and another a minute later reported that the suspect had run from the scene, out the main doors of the campus building.
The victim was taken to Banner University Medical Center, just blocks away, and was pronounced dead there, she said.
Balafas said that there were two witnesses to the shooting.
An hour after this report was published, Balafas said in a tweet that the fatal shooting was "a tremendously tragic event. We feel so incredibly bad for the professor’s family, friends and colleagues, and our hearts just really go out to them."
Thursday morning, the alleged shooter was being held in the infirmary section of the Pima County Jail, awaiting his first court appearance.
The man arrested in the shooting had no criminal record in local courts, online searches showed, but was evicted from a guest house in the West University neighborhood last week.
Dervish did not pay $895 in rent in September, and a judge pro tem in Pima County Justice Court ordered his eviction after he did not appear at a hearing last Tuesday, court records showed.
Neighbors of Dervish told the Tucson Sentinel on Wednesday evening that they got a "bad feeling" from him in recent encounters.
A married couple said the man repeatedly had "bad interactions" with young women who live in the main house on the property, at one point telling them they could take refuge across the street if they needed. The women — who were not home Wednesday — had come to the neighbors "multiple times, completely shaken up" by him, said the neighbors.
The alleged shooter recently told the neighbors, who didn't want their names reported, that it "wasn't going well" for him at the university, a statement which now gives one of them a "terrible feeling."
One of the neighbors told the Sentinel that Dervish once locked himself out of his place, and came up on the door to borrow a coat hanger. Dervish gave him such bad vibes, he didn't open the door, but instead talked to him through the door glass, he said.
University officials sent out a series of alerts about the incident Wednesday afternoon, via email and Twitter, but many students, university staff and parents of students repeatedly expressed confusion in response, saying that it was unclear what those on campus should do. Many posted online, asking questions about whether they should lock down in classrooms or not. Classes were canceled Wednesday afternoon, with UAPD advising people to avoid the area.
Wednesday evening, Meixner's phone was disconnected, and many of the social media accounts of the professor and his family had been locked. The family home was dark and quiet.
"We have reached out to Dr. Meixner’s family, and ask that their grief and privacy be respected," UA's Robbins said. "I encourage you to have compassion for one another and to care for yourselves and those around you during this difficult time."
Meixner noted for study of water in arid areas
Prof. Thomas Meixner taught and researched hydrology at the University of Arizona beginning in 2005. He became head of the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences in October 2019.
Meixner received a B.A. in the History of Science and a B.S. in Soil and Water Conservation from the University of Maryland in 1992.
He received his PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona in 1999, then taught Environmental Sciences at the University of California Riverside from 1999 through 2004.
His research focused on understanding the hydrology and water quality of desert rivers.
Meixner is survived by his wife Kathleen and sons Sean and Brendan.
TucsonSentinel.com’s Bennito L. Kelty and Maria Coxon-Smith contributed to this report.