In-person classes were set to resume Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles after a former lecturer and postdoctoral fellow was arrested on suspicion of threatening violence against the school in online videos and an 800-page manifesto sent via email.
Matthew Christopher Harris, 31, was taken into custody Tuesday in Boulder, Colorado following a brief standoff at his apartment complex that ended peacefully.
Harris, who had lectured in the UCLA philosophy department, sent the violence-laden video and lengthy manifesto, in which he made “specific threats” to people in the department, early Sunday to some of his former students. In response, university officials canceled in-person classes on Tuesday.
The university’s police department tracked Harris to Colorado and reached out to law enforcement in Boulder on Monday, ABC News reports.
By Tuesday morning, Colorado police located Harris at a Boulder apartment building, where authorities evacuated a nearby elementary school and some sorority and fraternity buildings at the University of Colorado. They also issued shelter-in-place warnings to 65 homes in the area.
Harris was taken into custody around midday without incident following a brief standoff, authorities said.
Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold told reporters Tuesday that her agency was contacted by UCLA police Monday night. Her team reviewed Harris’ manifesto, which she said threatened violence at both UCLA and in Boulder.
“Upon reviewing parts of the manifesto, we identified thousands of references of violence, stating things such as killing, death, murder, shootings, bombs, schoolyard massacre in Boulder, and phrases like burn and attack Boulder outside the university,” Herold said.
She added, “The level of violence that we saw in the manifesto was obviously so alarming, we have not made connections yet across states and that’s why we have federal partners looking at this as well. But I can tell you it was very violent and it was very disturbing.”
Herold told ABC that police had contact with Harris in October, though no criminal charges were filed, and police are reviewing their reports from that encounter.
Months before his threats against UCLA, Harris tried to purchase a gun in November in Colorado, but he was denied because of a previous protective order that had been issued against him in California, authorities said. Details of that order weren’t released, but The Associated Press reported that a UC Irvine philosophy professor obtained a restraining order against Harris last year after Harris sent emails threatening to “put bullets in her skull.”
Herold said Harris’ connection to Boulder was still under investigation.
The police search for Harris began after he sent an email about 1 a.m. to his former students, which was filled with racist slurs against Jewish and East Asian people, the Los Angeles Times reports. The email included links to what police termed a manifesto and videos including one titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING).”
In an online student message board, a student described Harris’ class as their least favorite at UCLA and said many students had complained to the department about his behavior, The Times reports. The student said Harris changed someone’s grade 43 times after the end of the academic quarter and had changed their grade three times.
The university on Tuesday made counseling services available to students and staff, noting that the threats “were frightening for many of us and caused our community to feel vulnerable at an already challenging time.” Students in need of the services were asked to call 310-825-0768, and faculty/staff can call 310-794-0245.
According to the campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin, Harris—who began working at UCLA in the spring of 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow—was put on leave last spring over allegations that he sent pornographic material to a student, and his position as a postdoctoral lecturer was originally set to expire in June 2021.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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