Colorado neighbors of arrested ex-UCLA lecturer echo students’ anger over lack of warnings

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When Matthew Harris moved into an apartment building across from the University of Colorado Boulder last year, some residents assumed he was a graduate student.

The modern, three-story building is surrounded by fraternity houses and other homes converted into off-campus housing. Almost everyone renting four-room apartment suites, at $1,600 a month per person, is a student at the university, residents said.

No one, it seemed, knew much about the 31-year-old, who kept a low profile and often dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

Then, early Tuesday, SWAT officers surrounded the building, evacuated some students and ordered nearby residents to shelter in place.

Harris, a former UCLA lecturer, was arrested at 11:07 am by Boulder police after a three-hour standoff at his apartment building. He was turned over to US authorities and is likely to face federal charges involving threats and weapons, law enforcement sources said, after sending members of UCLA’s philosophy department a video referencing a mass shooting and an 800-page manifesto with “specific threats.”

A neighbor showed The Times a video of police escorting Harris, appearing calm in a black shirt and shorts, out of the building.

Court documents, statements by authorities and other records brought Harris’ recent life into clearer focus, showing a pattern of erratic and disturbing behavior.

A police officer escorts people in front of University Hill Elementary School across from the University of Colorado Boulder, near the apartment building where former UCLA lecturer Matthew Harris was arrested.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Officials said his manifesto contained references to Boulder “in a university and schoolyard setting.”

On Tuesday, residents of the Boulder apartment building where he lived told The Times that, much like the students hundreds of thousands away in Los Angeles, they were upset that authorities didn’t do more to promptly inform them of Harris’ threats.

A University of Colorado student and resident of the apartment complex, who asked not to be identified due to safety concerns, recalled running into Harris in the building’s mailroom.

“You’d say something and he would take a second to process it. He wouldn’t really smile,” the student said.

Harris moved in at the start of the school year and initially had two roommates, but they moved out later in the fall because of his erratic behavior, the student said.

Matthew Shuttleworth, 19, a sophomore from Birmingham, Ala., studying finance, lived in the apartment beneath Harris since August but said he never met him.

“This morning I woke up at 9:30 to the SWAT dude banging on my door. He said, ‘You’ve got to get clothes on and evacuate,’” Shuttleworth said.

He initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but the university didn’t immediately alert students or cancel classes, so he left to take a test on campus.

“I just think it’s crazy he shut down UCLA, and the next day the guy is upstairs from me in Boulder,” Shuttleworth said.

People walk on a snow-covered path in front of a modern apartment building with a bike outside

Students walk past the apartment complex where former UCLA lecturer Matthew Harris was arrested Tuesday in Boulder, Colo.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

As Shuttleworth sheltered with classmate Will Thompson, 21, a junior from Great Falls, Va., they scanned social media and Harris’ posts, noting that the backdrop of at least one included the curtains from Shuttleworth’s building.

Thompson was troubled by how little notice students received from the University of Colorado Boulder about Harris.

Thompson had three classes Tuesday. The first and third were both held, he said, but the instructor for the second canceled, afraid to come to campus.

Standing in the apartment building’s lobby late Tuesday, Thompson watched Shuttleworth and another friend play pool as snow fell steadily outside.

They debated what would have happened if Harris had guns or explosives.

Just last year, a gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers market in town, Shuttleworth noted.

“You have to think there could be more safety measures they would take,” Thompson said. “It’s definitely rattling.”

Andrew Sorensen, a spokesman for the University of Colorado, said officials sent emergency alerts to notify students and employees about the SWAT operation “starting soon after Boulder police made their initial announcement of a shelter in place.”

The alerts came through text, email, audio on computers connected to campus Wi-Fi, and red banners atop university websites, Sorensen said. The first was issued about 10 am, warning people to shelter in place and avoid the area, followed by an update about 10:30 am and a third after Harris was in police custody at 11 am, he said.

About 4:30 pm, university Chancellor Philip DiStefano posted a statement online explaining the police presence and shelter-in-place order, which he said police maintained to secure the scene after arresting Harris. The campus was alerted that the order had been lifted “as soon as we were authorized,” he said.

“I understand that these incidents cause anxiety and concern in our community,” DiStefano said. “For many, this is a reminder of previous events and losses we have sustained…. We have a duty to disseminate only factual information in concert with public safety entities.”

The University of Colorado did not cancel classes or move them online, DiStefano said, because officials did not believe there was a threat to campus while Harris was under police surveillance.

The handling of the incident led to an outcry among students on social media, and a petition calling for DiStefano’s resignation posted about 3 pm Tuesday had received more than 3,500 signatures Wednesday.

It is unclear when Harris moved to Boulder, and not much is known about his life there.

A University of Colorado spokesman said a review of records didn’t show “any student or employee relationship with this individual.”

Boulder police had one unspecified contact with Harris in October, and in November, he was denied a gun purchase in nearby Jefferson County, Colorado, because a restraining order prohibiting him from buying or possessing firearms had been requested by University of California attorneys and granted by a Los Angeles judge, officials said.

Harris was let go by UCLA last year following widespread complaints about his behavior as a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy, and the restraining order barred him from all UC campuses after he had emailed his mother saying he planned to hunt down and kill a professor “for giving me schizophrenia,” LA County Superior Court documents show.

UCLA officials’ concerns were reignited when, early Sunday, Harris sent an email to some of his former students, replete with racist slurs against Jewish and East Asian people.

He uploaded videos to his YouTube channel, including one titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING),” posting more than 300 videos before his account was terminated late Monday.

News of Harris’ apparent threats circulated among students and faculty throughout Monday afternoon and into the evening hours, but UCLA’s first campuswide message didn’t come until 9:25 pm In a tweet, university officials said campus police were aware of a “concerning email and posting” and said police were engaged with out-of-state law enforcement.

A man walks down a hallway past restaurants in a student cafeteria building

A man makes his way down a nearly empty hallway in the UCLA student union building Tuesday, as the university moved classes online in response to apparent threats from a former postdoctoral fellow and lecturer.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

At 11:57 pm, UCLA tweeted that all classes would be held remotely Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution.”

The university’s response was met with backlash on social media.

Asked about the delay in notifications, a UCLA spokesman pointed to a statement by campus administrators thanking police and other law enforcement for “thoroughly investigating these threats as soon as we learned of them and for coordinating to locate and arrest the individual in Colorado.”

For many UCLA students, including those venting their frustrations on Twitter and Reddit, the university’s response was disheartening.

Lizette Garcia, a 22-year-old sociology student, said she was “speechless” after seeing the campus alert moving classes online.

Garcia said the message was phrased “as something not to be alarmed about, when it’s our lives at stake. … I just feel like the school continues to treat us like commodities, and that we’re just walking around with the value of our [federal student aid] on our head.”

After reading Harris’ manifesto, Garcia said, she felt more and more like a target even though she is not a philosophy student. The document stated that Harris wanted to eliminate anyone who isn’t Black or a man.

Adriana Navarro Rodriguez took Harris’ class on the philosophy of race during the spring 2021 quarter, her last at UCLA.

During an office visit, Harris asked her what her race was, one of a series of strange incidents involving the instructor, she said.

“He was definitely weird as a lecturer,” the 26-year-old UCLA graduate said. “He was extremely monotone and dry, and it was hard to get into the groove of his class. He takes these long pauses, and it’s very awkward.”

Harris’ behavior escalated, and he eventually sent one of his students a link to his YouTube channel, which contained “weird and disturbing” content, including some items that seemed pedophilic, Navarro Rodriguez said.

She contacted philosophy department staff, university police and the FBI before Harris was placed on administrative leave.

After news of his arrest Tuesday, Navarro Rodriguez said she felt stressed, annoyed and disappointed.

“It feels like if they would have actually taken proper action the first time around, we wouldn’t have been in this situation now,” she said.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Boulder and Yee from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Richard Winton and Nathan Solis contributed to this report.





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