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Man charged with 1st degree murder in shooting death of UA Prof. Meixner

Man charged with 1st degree murder in shooting death of UA Prof. Meixner

Suspect was arrested Weds., 120 miles from scene of Tucson shooting

  • Murad Dervish
    screenshot of video court hearingMurad Dervish
  • Slain UA Prof. Thomas Meixner
    UA College of ScienceSlain UA Prof. Thomas Meixner

The man arrested in the shooting death of University of Arizona Prof. Thomas Meixner faces a first-degree murder charge, and made his first court appearance late Thursday night. Murad Dervish, a former student, was arrested just hours after the fatal incident Wednesday.

The alleged gunman also faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the case.

After he was arrested in the desert south of Gila Bend, headed southbound toward Mexico, the accused shooter made several spontaneous statements about the incident, police said in court papers.

"I hope he's OK, probably wishful thinking" and "a woman wouldn't have done this," Dervish reportedly told police after he was informed of his Miranda rights.

"I just feel so disrespected by that whole department," he reportedly said. "I was going to kill myself, shoot myself, but I couldn't."

Special Magistrate Nikki Chayet, handling the initial appearance in Tucson City Court under an existing agreement with Pima County, ordered a "no bond" hearing for Dervish be set for Oct. 11, and another hearing scheduled for Oct. 17. Most future court hearings in the case will be held in Pima County Superior Court, which handles felonies.

Prosecutors did not detail the evidence against the accused shooter during the video hearing, which lasted less than four minutes. Dervish spoke little during the hearing, only providing the judge his name, and speaking away from the microphone briefly with a public defender.

The victim's family has "expressed serious concerns for their safety," prosecutors said, asking the judge to hold the accused without bond.

Meixner was shot four times, the interim complaint filed in the case stated.

Obituary: 'Making the world better through biogeochemistry' – Remembering Thomas Meixner

Another person in the University of Arizona office where the shooting took place was hit by a bullet fragment or spalling caused by a shot, the court document prepared by law enforcement said. That injury would be the basis for the assault charge.

Prosecutors wrote to the court that "this was a violent and pre-meditated murder, committed by a person who had been banned from the incident location because of his previous threatening behavior and who was the subject of an unrelated order of protection prohibiting him from possessing a firearm."

Dervish, 46, had been expelled from the university in February 2022 after a series of confrontations with professors, including Meixner. An email was circulated in the UA's Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences — which the slain professor headed — with Dervish's photograph and instructions to call 911 if he returned to the building, the court document said.

About three hours after the shooting, Dervish was stopped by police on State Route 85, about 30 miles south of Gila Bend. He was driving southbound, and refused to pull over for 2-3 miles as police attempted to stop him "using lights and siren," the complaint said.

An officer used a "PIT maneuver" to crash Dervish's vehicle.

Officers found a 9mm handgun "loaded with ammunition consistent with the approx(imately) 11 shell casings found at the murder scene," the complaint said.

Thursday morning, the alleged shooter was being held in the infirmary section of the Pima County Jail, awaiting his first court appearance in the case.

Meixner, 52, was noted for his work on the water quality of desert rivers.

The Tucson Sentinel broke the news Wednesday night that Meixner was the professor who was killed.

Related: UA hydrology Prof. Thomas Meixner killed by ex-student, arrest made near Gila Bend

Late Wednesday, UA President Robert Robbins said "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.

The UA College of Science posted online Thursday that "Tom was a wonderful and kind person, whose larger-than-life approach to being and doing inspired those around him and elevated the community. The world is different without him. He will be missed and loved by all."

UA Police Chief Paula Balafas told reporters during a press conference at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday 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. Multiple university sources, speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday evening prior to Robbins' statement, confirmed to the Sentinel that Meixner was the professor who was shot on campus.

The man arrested was identified as Dervish, 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.

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 assistance 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.

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.

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.

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