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UCLA students return to campus after arrest of suspect in threats

UCLA students returned to campus on Wednesday, Feb. 2, one day after classes were shifted to remote after officials said a former lecturer made threats against the campus this week.

The former philosophy fellow, Matthew Christopher Harris, 31, was arrested late Tuesday morning at his home in Boulder, Colorado.

Harris was accused of sending threatening messages to staff working in UCLA’s philosophy department on Monday. Harris wrote a violent, 800-page manifesto, and uploaded a video to YouTube called “UCLA Philosophy Mass Shooting,” in which he specifically threatened Dodd Hall on UCLA’s campus, according to Boulder police.

UCLA student Jazmine Castaneda, who has a class at Dodd Hall, said the experience was scary. She had a sociology class at the building on Monday, the same time threats were coming out, but wasn’t aware of them until later that day.

After learning of the threats first from her peers, then later from the university, Castaneda said she decided to leave her dormitory to stay with her family in South Gate.

“If (the threat) would’ve happened on Monday, it would’ve turned out horrible,” Castaneda, 20, said. “I think that’s why I decided to go back home, I felt really uneasy about the situation being there on that day.”

Castaneda decided to come back to campus on Wednesday after learning of Harris’ arrest. Still, her professor kept the Dodd Hall lecture remote on Wednesday, which Castaneda said she was grateful for.

“I feel like everyone’s fine now, especially after they announced they caught the suspect,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t have that information. But I still have some uneasiness.”

Skyla Sykes, 21, who is studying law, said she wasn’t shocked at the threat due to online threats of violence being so common these days. In high school, she also endured a threat, but having one at a university was a little surprising, Sykes said.

“It’s a low-key kind of normalized at this point, which is sad,” she said.

Sophia Olender, a 19-year-old biology student from Santa Cruz, said knowing the suspect was in custody was also a big factor in coming back to campus.

“There’s a ton of people out here, they don’t seem scared,” Olender said. “I think because they physically caught him, they know where he is, that’s what makes me feel more OK with it. That’s why I assume others are, too.”

When Olender first heard of the threat, she said she wasn’t that worried about it. That changed when she watched the threats on YouTube video.

“I felt chills to my core watching that, even though I didn’t think it was going to happen—I haven’t been that deeply disturbed in a while,” she said. “It’s very scary, he uses clips of other mass shootings, you can see people actually getting shot and killed, which was very serious.”

On Tuesday, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Harris attempted to buy a handgun in another Colorado county in November, which was denied. Dougherty said he believed Harris was unable to make the purchase due to a protection order filed against him in California.

The University of California regents filed a workplace violence restraining order against Harris in May 2021. The court documents sketch out Harris’ history in the months before that of allegedly harassing and threatening a UC Irvine professor, as well as his alleged inappropriate sexual behavior towards some of his former students at UCLA.

According to the restraining order, the UC Irvine professor said she met Harris at Duke University in 2013, but had little contact with him there. Seven years later, Harris reached out to her asking for career advice. After that call in September 2020, the woman said she was concerned about Harris’ behavior.

Over the next six months, the professor said Harris would send her harassing text messages and emails. By March 2021, she had sent him a text telling him to stop contacting her.

It was during that time in January 2021 when Harris sent his mother in North Carolina an email in which he specifically threatened to kill the professor at the Irvine campus. In that email, he also said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“Now I get shouted at all day and frankly I’m ready to go Chris Dorner on these white people,” Harris wrote.

Christopher Dorner was the former Los Angeles Police Department officer who went on a killing spree across the region in 2013 before dying in a shootout at a Big Bear Lake cabin.

Harris’ mother may not have seen that email until her son made an unannounced visit to her North Carolina home the week of April 10, 2021. That’s when Harris’ mother got in contact with the UC Irvine professor.

Three days later, Harris’ mother forwarded two threatening emails she found to the UC’s human relations department. Staff members flagged the emails the same day.

By then, UCLA had already placed Harris on investigatory leave after getting reports that he had sent pornographic images to students around March 2021.

It took until May 13 for the UC regents to file the restraining order, the day after the UC Police Department said they learned that Harris had been released from an LA County mental health facility.

LA County Superior Court Judge David Swift granted a temporary restraining order the same day, ordering Harris to stay away from the professor he threatened and all UC campuses.

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