Now Reading
UA profs felt like 'sitting ducks' as they pleaded for help before Meixner killing

Special report

UA profs felt like 'sitting ducks' as they pleaded for help before Meixner killing

'Shouting in the dark': University of Arizona, Pima officials failed to follow through in months before shooting death of Prof. Thomas Meixner

  • An ofrenda set up this week in UA Prof. Christopher Castro's home by his wife.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comAn ofrenda set up this week in UA Prof. Christopher Castro's home by his wife.
  • UA Prof. Christopher Castro
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comUA Prof. Christopher Castro
  • Slain UA Prof. Thomas Meixner
    UA College of ScienceSlain UA Prof. Thomas Meixner
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • Murad Dervish was accused of first-degree murder in Meixner's death in his initial court appearance last Thursday.
    screenshot of video court appearanceMurad Dervish was accused of first-degree murder in Meixner's death in his initial court appearance last Thursday.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • A vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA vigil was held Friday night outside Old Main at the University of Arizona.
  • Paul Ingram/

The man accused of killing UA Prof. Thomas Meixner last week repeatedly threatened and harassed other faculty members, with another professor reporting the "dangerous" pattern to university officials and police multiple times over many months.

"I knew he was going to try to kill me," Prof. Christopher Castro said.

Faculty "felt like sitting ducks" in the face of violent threats and a stream of racist, antisemitic and homophobic messages sent by the alleged shooter, a former UA student who was kicked out of school because of his "intimidating" behavior, Castro told the Tucson Sentinel.

Related: Friends & family of Thomas Meixner pay final respects to slain UA professor

While it's unclear when the accused gunman purchased the pistol allegedly used to kill Meixner, or if he was even legally allowed to possess a firearm, the fatal shooting was preceded by a long series of signs of potential violence — and missed opportunities for authorities to deal with the situation.

Castro said he laid out the pattern in detail to UA police — with him predicting to an officer that the ex-student would act on his violent threats — and obtained an injunction against harassment against him when the professor felt police weren't doing enough to protect him and his family. The university had prepared an "exclusion order," seeking to bar him from ever setting foot on campus.

But law enforcement apparently never made direct contact with the man who authorities now say went on to shoot and kill Meixner.

Describing "red flag after red flag," Castro told the Sentinel that the University of Arizona Police Department never served that order on the alleged shooter, 46-year-old former graduate student Murad Can Dervish.

After Castro personally went to court to obtain an injunction against harassment against Dervish, that order was never served by the Pima County Constables Office, records show.

Yet the ex-student was continuing to live in a guest house just six blocks from the UA campus (and five blocks from the Constables Office) in the West University neighborhood, and was easily found by a private process server in a later eviction case.

"Right there, he was right there, the whole fucking time," Castro said, choking back tears and rage. "We were shouting in the dark. And no one heard."

The ex-student continued to harass the professor via email after a judge granted that injunction, he said — which would have made Dervish subject to arrest if he had been served.

The accused gunman, while not having any criminal record locally, was the subject of a 2020 order of protection in California after a fellow student at San Diego State University alleged he had been harassing her for nearly two years.

The man had reportedly served time behind bars in previous cases, including "pulling a knife on a pizza man" while in college in Pennsylvania years ago. In another incident, the man attempted to strangle his mother with a scarf, leaving scars on her neck, his father told the Sentinel. Another time, Dervish attacked his father with a crowbar, he said.

"He wasn't supposed to have a gun," the elder Dervish said. "I don't know how he got a gun."

Meixner, the head of the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and noted for his work on the water quality of desert rivers, was shot multiple times and died after walking out of a classroom last Wednesday. The gunman fired 11 bullets and quickly fled the scene.

Castro — also a professor in the department — said he believes he was also a target in the shooting, which he said was timed for when his next class would be starting in that same room, and he and Meixner would both be present during the changeover. The only reason he's alive is because he was out of town that day, he told the Sentinel earlier this week, sobbing.

"I knew he was going to try to kill me," Castro said, angry and sobbing, explaining how less than a month before the shooting, he had forwarded to his wife an email record of the warnings he had sent to UA officials.

Dervish was arrested just hours after the shooting, about 120 miles away near Gila Bend, and now faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Dispute over grade escalated to harassment, expulsion from UA

The alleged gunman became "pissed" about a bad grade nearly a year ago, leading to a series of confrontations with professors last November and December, Castro said. He had been working as a teaching assistant in the department. His contract was not renewed for the spring semester due to his conduct, but he was initially allowed to continue studying in the program.

But "things continued to escalate" and messages sent by the student to faculty members "became violent," and he was first suspended, and then expelled from the university last February. Dervish was also harassing a female student in the department, as well as other professors, Castro and other sources told the Sentinel.

For months after being expelled, Dervish continued to send messages that his teachers interpreted as threats, Castro said in a wide-ranging interview.

"We were in a state of purgatory," he said, first as the student pursued "due process" by forcing a hearing on his expulsion — an "arduous" hearing in April at which Meixner provided the department's reasons for ousting the student, Castro said.

"Students were scared of (Dervish)," the professor said.

UA police and school officials have released only scant information in the case, and have not responded to the Sentinel's request for documents about the shooting and any previous reports and records regarding Dervish. But Castro disclosed copies of repeated emails he exchanged with university representatives about the ex-student, and court and law enforcement records document parts of the situation outside the university. The Sentinel's reporting is based on those documents, and hours of interviews with Castro and others familiar with the case.

Last Nov. 21, Meixner told Dervish that "his grade would stand" and "he got agitated." "Several days later, Tom was in the hallway (of the Hydrology Department), there was an altercation, and they exchanged expletives," Castro said.

"Soon after, he confronted the professor (who had given him the poor grade) in the classroom," he said.

Dervish "intimidated another student, who felt threatened," he said.

"We can't keep him on as a TA, if he did this, when he's in a position of power" over other students, Castro said.

The incidents were reported to the Dean of Students Office, and "we told him we couldn't keep him on as a TA after that Code of Conduct violation."

As the supervisor for the department's teaching assistants, Castro delivered that message.

Despite not keeping him on as a TA, the department "tried to offer him support to stay with the program," Castro said, including "tuition support."

"'You can overcome this," they told the graduate student, the professor said. But "things continued to escalate."

Dervish wrote to Castro, calling him and his colleagues "lazy and completely incompetent narcissistic fucking pieces of shit who think the whole fucking world revolves thiem (sic)" in mid-December.

"We gave him a chance to rectify this, but he was belligerent. And this is when the emails — vile emails — started. He sent them at night," Castro told the Sentinel.

In January, the grad student wrote a series of emails to Castro, saying "I don't think you want to be on the wrong side of this," "do you really think you fucking scumbags are going to get away with the way you're treating me," and "You are a complete asshole piece of shit idiot to do (Meixner's) bidding."

"He could never accept the consequences of his actions," Castro told the Sentinel, seething. "He killed Tom, and then when he ran, he showed he would never accept a consequence."

In early February, while Dervish was still in school, another professor in the department attempted to "befriend him" to "mediate" the situation, Castro said, asking that his colleague not be named.

But "his texts became violent," he said, as "he turned on this person."

To that professor, who is not white, Dervish — whose father is an immigrant from Cyprus of Turkish ethnicity — wrote about Kyle Rittenhouse and Donald Trump, and "taking our country back," Castro said.

The case was again referred to the Dean of Students Office, with Castro saying "we've got to expel him," he told the Sentinel.

'State of purgatory' for Hydrology Department faculty, students

Castro told the university's Office of General Counsel, "the police — everybody" that he thought Dervish was a threat, he said.

While he was quickly placed on ''interim suspension" and then expelled, the grad student appealed, and was entitled to a hearing under the UA's academic processes.

"He kept delaying and delaying the hearing. He put everyone in a state of purgatory," Castro said. "I couldn't tell students and faculty what was happening" because of privacy laws.

After Dervish was expelled in February, his photo was posted in the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences in the Harshbarger Building, with staff instructed to call the police if he was spotted. An email with his photo and that message was circulated to the department.

With the student expelled, "we closed the main classroom" and taught students in other locations because of concerns about safety, Castro said.

"We asked for police presence in the building, and moved classes out, abandoned the lab" for a time, he said.

But there were "demands" from faculty and students about the closure of the facility, for which the department had recently raised $50,000 to refit with technology and was their "pride and joy," he said.

"Are we going to keep living like this?," Castro said some asked.

Because of federal laws about the privacy of educational records, "I couldn't tell people what was happening," he said, quietly weeping during an interview.

"You have to trust me," he told them during the spring.

"We started using the classroom again a few weeks later," he said, as the process dragged out.

"We can't use it anymore," he sobbed during an interview this week. "The building's cursed; no one wants to be in that room."

His inability to keep his students and colleagues informed earlier "hurts; it makes me feel ill. I feel they have every right to be angry with me," he told the Sentinel. One faculty member emailed him "in a rage" the night of the shooting, telling Castro he should resign.

'I wish someone would blow your head off'

The now-expelled student continued the email harassment, and threatened to sue the professors and university.

"You people are so far in the wrong that all I can see is an astronomical payday in the end — so I suppose I should really be thanking you," he wrote Castro in mid-March, saying that the confrontation with Meixner had been "an isolated incident that was instigated by him."

"Anyone he encountered in that process, he targeted," Castro said. "I forwarded emails, telling people we've got to do something about it. Now!"

The UA Dean of Students Office issued a "no-contact order" against Dervish on March 8, 2022, telling him not to contact or physically approach Castro.

After the student again emailed him days later, Castro wrote to him that he would "pursue an injunction against harassment should he continue to violate the no-contact order. He responds that he 'will not contact me again,'" he said in court papers in August.

Over several months, the expelled student continued to email angry outbursts, repeatedly calling Meixner "piece of shit kike trash," although the late professor was a Catholic. He called Castro, who is married to a woman and has children, a "faggot" and a "fucking Mexican," and another professor a "piece of shit."

At one point, he wrote to the professor who had attempted to befriend him earlier, saying "I wish someone would blow your head off," Castro told the Sentinel.

Castro, who was with his family, was approached by Dervish outside a pharmacy near the UA in April, he said, requesting "multiple times to talk to me." He reported that incident to police, and "was advised by UAPD that my only recourse was to file an injunction against harassment."

After Dervish's university email account was terminated, he began using a Yahoo email address to harass Castro, he said.

"You must have sucked a lot of dick to get where you're at!," the expelled student wrote in one email sent late one July night, just 20 minutes after writing in another that "You're just a filthy goddamned garbage, you need to figure out what's going on before making a decision. You're in no way qualified to do your job asshole."

The professor asked the UA's Office of General Counsel for help, inquiring about a "general order of protection" that would cover everyone within the department.

The university's lawyers told Castro to block his emails, he said.

"I don't want to block him because — I know it's vile shit — but if he's there, if there's a threat, I need to know," he told the Sentinel about his thinking over the summer.

Castro "talked with Crisis Management" at the university. "There were red flags. He was clearly threatening," he said he told them.

With the school's "no-contact" order no longer in force after the expulsion, Castro wanted to get a court order to keep Dervish away from him and his family. But university officials refused to provide Castro with the address of the expelled student, citing privacy concerns.

Unless an order were served on Dervish, it would not legally take effect.

"They wouldn't give me his address — you make me do the job of an investigator?," Castro told the Sentinel. "I had to figure all that out by myself. Investigate, connect dots, gather evidence. Why should I have to do that?"

Castro paid a private investigator to track down the former student's address.

The emails from him continued, according to records provided by Castro.

In August, Dervish wrote to Castro that "You need to figure out a way to have the department honor the promises you made to me."

Harassment injunction issued, never served by constable

Castro interpreted that email, along with the others, as an "implied threat," he told a Pima County court that same day, requesting an injunction against harassment.

Laying out the string of emails sent over months despite the "no-contact" order and Dervish's acknowledgement of it, Castro asked Justice of the Peace Susan Bacal to legally bar the expelled student from contacting Castro or going to his home or workplace.

The judge granted the order the same day, Friday, August 5.

The injunction was sent to the Pima County Constables Office on August 9, and Castro authorized in advance payment for four attempts to serve the document on Dervish.

The constables are elected law enforcement officials, responsible for serving orders of protection, eviction, and other legal papers issued by the Justice Courts.

Pima County Constable George Camacho, whose precinct includes the East 4th Street guest house where Dervish had been living, was tasked with delivering the injunction documents, and thus binding Dervish by their terms.

"Per neighbor, defendant does not reside at listed," Camacho reported about his first attempt to serve the injunction, made on August 10, according to documents provided to the Sentinel by county sources.

In a handwritten note on another report, Camacho recorded the date of that attempt as August 9, writing that "per male in House 1, D does not reside" and that he had "left (his) card."

No further attempts to serve the injunction are evident from the record, and multiple Pima County sources told the Sentinel that Camacho did not try again to deliver the papers to Dervish.

Instead, in a document dated Aug. 11, Camacho checked off "Unable to serve" and signed his name. The packet of court papers was returned to Castro by mail.

Emails continue, Castro warns UA

Dervish continued to send emails, the professor said, including writing to Castro on Sept. 3 that "You and the department owe me alot (sic) of money you filthy lying goddamned faggot garbage" and on Sept. 5, "Are you going to pay what you owe?"

Castro filed a report with Yahoo, asking them to revoke the former student's account due to the harassment.

He also again reported the campaign of emails to UA police and other officials, writing on Sept. 6 that "as I have said now to you all in documented email communications to OGC, UAPD, and DOS, now several times, I am of the strong opinion that all relevant law enforcement investigatory authority should be brought to bear on this case. That would include even if Mr. Dervish has moved out of state. That is simply beyond my power to do, as an individual and private citizen. I will note that I have done everything I possibly can in my capacity to protect myself and my family and seek legal recourse as an individual — but to no avail."

Dervish "has continued to harass employees" and "I am also aware that the University of Arizona has been provided evidence that this harassment may rise to the level that may be interpreted as physically threatening to members of my department, namely the communications to" another professor, he wrote. "I am of the belief that this danger is ongoing" and that extended to the others involved in the case, and possibly all of the faculty, students and staff, he wrote.

Meixner, who was copied on the email, responded that he was "sorry Mr. Dervish continues to harass you and others," and that he would "pursue (College of Science) leadership.... to figure out what pressure we can place on (the Office of General Counsel) and others."

Castro sent another email that day, replying to Meixner and others in his department and saying that the FBI should be included, and that there should be "more active investigation by law enforcement to ascertain his physical whereabouts," along with "possibly pressing state or federal charges against Murad because of the physical threat."

"The university should be more proactive to pursue protection for its employees," he wrote, again suggesting that court orders against Dervish be handled by UA attorneys and not individual staffers. "The lack of action and urgency to that end has been an undertone to all the interactions with the relevant offices throughout the case history and a source of frustration among the affected parties."

"That frustration, I submit, has also caused the affected parties in the case to be more reticent to immediately report potentially actionable information in this case to the appropriate university authority."

"That's potentially dangerous," Castro wrote.

"Finally, the university needs to be more cognizant that a failure to be more proactive may present a liability issue, should the unthinkable and worst possible outcome of this situation come to pass," he wrote.

"I agree with you, Chris," one of his colleagues responded. "IMHO this should not fall on the shoulders of the victims of harassment. You are right to document all of this s(o) that there is a record of what the University of Arizona has and has not done."

That morning, Castro forwarded to his wife a copy of the email he had sent to UA police and administrators.

"I am sending this to you for your records, so you are aware of the documented concerns I have expressed to the University of Arizona in regards to my personal safety. God forbid you would ever have to use it," he wrote to her.

Telling the Sentinel he was worried about what would happen if the expelled student "comes and kills me," Castro — visibly angry, with emotions bouncing on his face — said he copied the records "thinking I had to protect my family. It's sick one has to do that."

'We are here to help'

Three days later, Castro spoke again with university police, he said.

"We'll press charges; we are here to help," he said UAPD told him.

But nothing followed, he said, calling it "infuriating."

"Who the fuck was connecting the dots?" he asked, telling Sentinel reporters that he "drew the lines" between the incidents, and told UA police they were dealing with someone who was dangerous.

"I knew then he was going to try to kill me," Castro said, his voice quavering.

Castro said he described the entire incident to police before it happened, calling it a "premonition of sorts," and saying he "shouted" to UA officials that Dervish "was ticking all the boxes."

Living next to a 'super-villain'

Just more than 10 days later, Dervish's landlord filed to have him evicted from the guest house on East 4th Street, as he had not paid his $895 rent for September.

A day after that, a private process server handed Dervish the court paperwork at that same address, records show, informing him he was being evicted but could contest it at a hearing on Sept. 27.

The former grad student did not appear for the hearing, and was ordered evicted by default.

Dervish's neighbors weren't likely to miss him.

Monday Taraz, 22, had lived next door to him for six months.

"We've been joking about this guy being a supervillain for months," Taraz told the Sentinel the day after the shooting. He had dark circles under his eyes, and would often glare at the neighbors, and she once found him lingering on the front porch "being creepy," she said.

The inhabitant of the guest house regularly yelled at them over small noises like shutting a door or talking on the porch, she said, often engaging "in really aggressive behavior" against her roommate and their friends.

The residents of the front house shared a laundry room with him, and once found their underwear dumped out on the floor, she said.

Those roommates had reported Dervish to Tucson police over some of his behavior, she said, but didn't have a copy of the police report. TPD has not yet responded to the Sentinel's request for documents related to the alleged shooter.

Other neighbors of Dervish told the Sentinel on the evening Meixner was killed that they got a "bad feeling" from him in recent encounters.

A married couple said the man repeatedly had "bad interactions" with the young women who live in the main house on the property, with the couple at one point telling them they could take refuge across the street if they needed. The women 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.

The man in the guest house had been seen pulling the seats out of the back of a light-colored van he drove, they said.

The unthinkable outcome

A week after the eviction hearing, UA Prof. Thomas Meixner was shot and killed in a hallway right outside the classroom where he had just finished teaching a hydrology class.

UA Police Chief Paula Balafas, speaking during a brief news conference that began at 5:30 p.m., told reporters that a male professor had been shot with a handgun at the Harshbarger Building on campus around 2 p.m., and that a suspect had just been taken into custody minutes before.

Balafas repeatedly refused to name the victim of the fatal shooting, but multiple university sources, speaking to the Sentinel on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Meixner was the professor who was shot on campus. After the Sentinel broke the news, UA officials publicly announced the victim's identity.

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.

Just one minute before 2 p.m., UA police had 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.

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.

Murder in the first degree

The accused gunman made his initial court appearance the next night, after being taken back to Tucson and held in the infirmary section of the Pima County jail overnight.

He faces a first-degree murder charge for killing Meixner, and a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because one of the witnesses was injured by flying debris or a bullet fragment. He's being held without bond.

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."

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.

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."

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," swerving his vehicle into the minivan driven by Dervish's to spin it out and force a crash.

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

Guns, ammunition, legal docs found in search

A search of the guest house and 2000 Pontiac Montana driven by Dervish found two handguns, ammunition, and legal documents, according to a search warrant return document filed later with the court.

Paperwork related to his eviction was found both in the home and vehicle after his arrest, the documents said.

What the court papers described as an "order of protection" related to a July 2011 criminal case against him in San Diego was also in the vehicle. Dervish was accused of domestic violence against his mother and a "DV prevention" order was filed that same month in a San Diego court.

In the minivan, Dervish had packed multiple suitcases full of clothing, and had a holstered 9mm Ruger Max pistol with a round in the chamber and 7 rounds loaded in the 10-round magazine, inside a Walmart bag found in the rear of the passenger compartment.

What police said was a "bill of sale" for the Ruger was also in the Pontiac. A manual for the pistol, a gun lock, a spare trigger and an Allen wrench were found in that bag.

An empty box that had held 20 "military grade" Sig Sauer 9mm bullets was also in the bag, police said.

He also had a .25 caliber Raven Arms handgun — a type of small, cheap "Saturday night special" pistol often referred to as a "Ring of Fire" gun, with a loaded 10-round magazine and another bullet in the chamber, inside a holster stuffed inside the bag in the back of the vehicle. He also had 3 other partly loaded magazines for the .25 pistol, and a box with 31 rounds of .25 ammunition.

A single spent 9mm casing was inside the plastic bag, police said.

Several knives and what police described as two "machetes" were also found in the vehicle.

Two cellphones were found inside a backpack, while a third was found inside a Faraday bag, which limits transmissions and can make a cellphone impossible to track.

Dervish was carrying pepper spray, which was found when the officers who forced him to stop patted him down.

Despite the Faraday bag, Dervish was indeed tracked by officers "pinging" one of his phones, Castro said a Pima County Sheriff's deputy told his wife.

The professor told Sentinel reporters that he couldn't understand why police could track the accused gunman's phone within just a short time after the shooting, locating him and arresting him in a remote stretch of desert, but couldn't track him down when he was just blocks away in Tucson.

"This was going on for nearly a year, and they could not find him. They weren't investigating anything," he said angrily.

Attacked mother, father years ago

As the court documents found in Dervish's car show, the murder case in which he's now accused isn't his first criminal prosecution.

Dolgun Dervish, 76, said that his son's problems began "when he born," blaming a delayed C-section that he said caused brain damage and, Dolgun believes, "Asperger's syndrome" in his son.

But medical experts say that what was formerly known as Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders aren't caused by brain trauma, but that it's a genetically based condition. Nor are people with autism any more likely than anyone else to be violent, experts say, but may instead be more prone to being victims rather than perpetrators.

Murad "always stayed close to his parents" and "as a child, was not social. He did not want to be with his peers," his father told the Sentinel via phone.

When his son was at state college in Pennsylvania, he "pulled a knife on pizza man," Dolgun Dervish said, and was sent to jail. That was Murad's "first legal troubles," Dolgun said.

Later, while Murad was living with his mother in San Diego, he asked her, "What did you do to me as a child?," Dolgun said. His mother refused to have the same conversation with her son "for the thousandth time," Dolgun said, and Murad came up behind her and strangled her with a scarf, almost killing her and leaving scars on her neck.

In the 2011 case, he was convicted of "elder abuse causing great bodily injury" and a weapons charge, and sentenced to a year behind bars and five years of probation, with a stayed sentence of five years. He violated the terms of his probation, and ended up serving that sentence in prison.

His mother wasn't his only target.

"He would do the same thing to me. 'I want to talk to you,' he would say. 'Why did you hate me when I was a child,' which was absolutely not true," the father said.

Murad, while living in Marion, S.C., with his father, attacked him with a crowbar one morning, "still drunk from the night before," Dolgun said. The elder Dervish called police and they arrested Murad.

Murad also "pulled a knife on a pizza man" in San Diego, Dolgun said, which got him arrested again.

"What has happened in Tucson is devastating, not for us or for our son, but for the poor man that got killed in a senseless murder and his family," Dolgun Dervish said. "He was a wonderful, wonderful man, I hear."

"I'm absolutely devastated by the death of this man, and I feel very bad for all that I couldn't do all these years," Dervish said. "I've done everything I can, spent so much money, everything for my son — he has two degrees. He was very smart — to be a normal person."

"He wasn't supposed to have a gun," Dervish said. "I don't know how he got a gun."

Dervish said he hadn't talked to his son for about two and half years, and had been ignoring calls from him.

Murad's mother, 73, is a former prosecutor who no longer goes by the name she used when married to his father. The Sentinel has not been able to interview her.

String of deaths

The killing of Tom Meixner is only the latest shocking death the faculty, staff and students of the Hydrology Department have been dealing with.

In late August, graduate student Jetal Sutariya Agnihotri, 29, was swept away by floodwaters while hiking in Utah's Zion National Park. Her body was found four days later.

Early in the morning of Sept. 14, another grad student committed suicide in the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences building.

University officials have offered counseling services to faculty, staff and students, Castro said, readily acknowledging that he feels "survivor's guilt" and that he had already seen a counselor this week.

The professor repeatedly asked second-guessing questions during a 2.5-hour interview with Sentinel reporters.

"Should I have gone to the FBI myself?," he pondered.

"I want everyone to get the help they need," he said. "The school failed. I want to know why they failed."

'If you see something, say something'

UA Police Chief Balafas reminded people at last week's press conference, "If you see something, say something," Castro recalled bitterly.

"It's definitely a tragedy and I think it's just one of those things that sometimes you can't even predict," the police chief told reporters just hours after the shooting. "It would be wonderful if we could all feel secure in our workplaces. I think what it comes down to, is that in our society right now, if somebody is angry enough or focused enough, something like this can happen, unfortunately."

"She knew the facts" that warning flags had been raised, Castro said.

"And Tom knew all of it — blow by blow."

"You know what those motherfuckers said" after the shooting?, he asked angrily. "Excellent response time. Excellent response time. Fuck your response time. A man is dead."

"My friend is dead," he sobbed.

"I'm sorry I failed," he said softly. "If you see something, say something."

Castro said he wants an "independent investigation" of the case. "This is not about heads rolling, or 'somebody needs to pay.' It's about finding the facts. Where did he get that gun?"

"I have a responsibility to (Meixner's) kids," he said. As a cancer survivor, the slain professor wasn't able to have life insurance, Castro said.

"His family needs to be taken care of for the rest of their lives," he said.

Meixner is survived by his wife Kathleen Cotter Meixner and sons Sean and Brendan.

His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday at St. Cyril of Alexandria Roman Catholic Parish, 4725 E. Pima St.

'Important questions about how this could happen on our campus'

UA President Robert Robbins released a statement to "dear students and colleagues" Monday night, saying that in the days since the "tragic murder of Professor Tom Meixner, the university community has come together to honor his memory, to comfort one another, and, for some, to ask important questions about how this could happen on our campus."

"We have begun the work to retain recognized independent external experts in security and threat assessments to begin a comprehensive review of all aspects of our campus safety, violence prevention, and public safety response, with an initial report, including recommendations, due to me within 75 days," he said.

"While the charge to the external experts will include a review of how the university handled threats in advance of the murder of Prof. Meixner, it also will encompass the safety and security of our buildings, our threat assessment approach, our UAlert system, and any area of campus security they determine relevant to campus safety," Robbins said.

Suicide watch

The accused gunman has been on suicide watch at the jail, where he's been transferred out of the infirmary, records show.

A "no bond" hearing was scheduled for this Tuesday, but was pushed back by the judge until next Thursday, Oct. 20, with Judge Lee Ann Roads citing "a problem with my calendar and some problems with other issues that are being resolved."

Dervish was present for the aborted hearing, appearing clear-eyed and smiling at one moment as his lawyer struggled with a microphone cable in front of the judge's bench.

During the hearing, which took only a few minutes with the issue of bond pushed off, defense attorney Chris Lynch complained his client was sleeping on his cell floor with only a blanket and no bed, however a corrections officer told the court the defendant is on suicide watch. Lynch also pushed for "reasonable accommodations" for Dervish to review "three inches" worth of paper documents to help in his bond hearing.

He has "absolute right to aid in his defense," Lynch argued.

Lynch also pushed for Roads to get his client off suicide watch, telling the court that the accused man has been in jail for five days and "he is not suicidal."

The judge said she would not overrule the jail, telling Lynch she has a "obligation to make sure" Dervish is "safe and available to be represented and prosecuted."

 "I'm not going to interfere with how the jail runs its daily operations," she said, but instructed the jail to make it possible for the accused gunman to review the documents from his lawyer.

After a brief whispered sidebar with the defense attorney and prosecutor, Judge Roads indicated for the record that she had overheard one of the defendant's neighbors discussing the shooting at a "market" the day after the incident. "There was no mention of a name," and the person said "they had been in a confrontation" with the shooter, the judge said.

Roads said she won't be in court for the next hearing, but "wanted to advise the attorneys" about what she overheard, saying "it wouldn't influence my decision" to continue the bond hearing.

Wedding ring returned to family

With both the defense and prosecutor agreeing, the judge ordered Tuesday that Tom Meixner's wedding band be released from evidence and returned to his family, who want him to be buried wearing it. His funeral and internment is set for Friday morning.’s Bennito L. Kelty contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Prof. Castro’s area of academic focus. An atmospheric scientist and associate head of the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, Castro specializes in the physical understanding and prediction of climate in North America through regional atmospheric modeling and analysis.

— 30 —

Top headlines

Best in Internet Exploder