By Ryan Gabrielson
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Students and faculty gather near the scene of a shooting that left four people dead yesterday morning in the College of Nursing. The gunman, a struggling nursing student, shot and killed three professors before turning the gun on himself.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday October 29, 2002
A nursing student, allegedly distraught over failing grades, methodically killed three of his professors and then himself yesterday morning, marking one of the bloodiest days in UA history.
At about 8:30 a.m., while most students in the College of Nursing were taking midterms, Robert Stewart Flores Jr., a third-semester nursing student, entered the second-floor office of Robin Rogers, an assistant professor of nursing, and shot her multiple times, killing her, Tucson Police Assistant Chief Robert Lehner said. She was 50.
Flores, 41, then moved up to the fourth floor, where a class was 40 minutes into an exam. Gena Johnson, a fourth-semester nursing student, said that he looked calm and "clean-shaven," with his backpack slung over his shoulder and the gun in his hand aimed at the second victim, Cheryl McGaffic, another assistant professor of nursing.
Some of the professors and students in the College of Nursing were wearing Halloween costumes. "When I saw him at first I thought it was some kind of joke. But then the shooting started and I realized that the gun wasn't fake," said Julie Raymond, a fourth-semester nursing student.
The professor, who had been sitting in a desk near the front of the classroom, stood up and began to panic, Johnson said. Flores then called out, "Cheryl McGaffic, I'm going to give you a lesson in spirituality."
He shot her twice in the chest from about five feet away. After she fell, he straddled her body and fired another round in her chest. McGaffic was 44.
All of the nearly 50 students dropped to the floor, as did Barbara Monroe, an assistant professor of nursing and another instructor of the course, who was at the podium when Flores entered. Monroe attempted to crawl out of the way and curled beneath a desk, Johnson said.
Flores moved over Monroe, said Laura Kelley, a fourth-semester nursing student, and asked her if she remembered the last thing she said to him. She replied, "No." He then asked Monroe, "Are you ready to meet your maker?"
He shot her three times. She was 45.
Silence ensued, Johnson said, as students lay on the floor watching their professors die.
After the pause, Flores called out for two of his friends ÷ who he called "Jules" and "Lisa" ÷ to stand up and leave.
"I could tell it was planned. He had a very precise tone and was extremely calm and at this point he was holding the gun at his waist and looking around the room, and then he excused the two girls from the room," Johnson said.
Flores told the remaining students to "get the hell out."
Once the classroom cleared, Flores killed himself with one of his five guns, said Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda.
"Today, (Flores') focus was on the College of Nursing and his victims were premeditated," Miranda said.
At 8:37 a.m., someone in an adjacent classroom called 911, he said. By 8:46 a.m., 33 Tucson Police Department officers who had been training at Himmel Park were arriving at the scene along with university police.
Just before 9 a.m., police found Flores' body and confirmed the shooter was no longer a threat, Miranda said.
In a press conference last night, Miranda said Flores may have been planning to shoot more people but changed his mind at the last minute.
Flores was carrying five handguns and between 200 and 250 rounds of ammunition at the time of the shooting.
Flores is believed to have had many possible motives for killing his professors.
Some students said he had failed the classes taught by McGaffic, Monroe and Rogers last semester and was seeking a type of revenge. Miranda said that Flores had also been having financial problems stemming from child support payments. He was divorced with two children.
Timeline of Events
· About 8:30 a.m. Robert Stewart Flores Jr. enters the College of Nursing with five guns, proceeds to the second-floor office of Assistant Nursing Professor Robin Rogers and kills her.
· 8:35 a.m. Flores arrives at a fourth-floor classroom and kills Barbara Monroe and Cheryl McGaffic, both assistant professors of nursing. He releases the students and commits suicide shortly thereafter.
· 8:37 a.m. A student in an adjacent classroom calls 911.
· 8:40 a.m. UA police officers arrive at the College of Nursing.
· 8:46 a.m. 33 TPD officers training at Himmel Park respond.
· 8:54 a.m. Flores is confirmed dead on the fourth floor.
Flores had no grudge against his fellow nursing students, Miranda added.
"He did not target the students; he let some of them go," he said. "I can't even say what's key (to the investigation) right now. It seems there were many issues in his life."
Miranda said Flores did not leave a suicide note.
TPD's bomb-sniffing dogs picked up a scent in Flores' silver Jeep Grand Cherokee that could have been explosives, said Sgt. Marco Borboa, a Tucson police spokesman. After blowing out the Jeep's rear window, police searched the Jeep, but found nothing.
Initially, there was concern that Flores' backpack contained explosives, but it was only found to contain a handgun and ammunition.
No explosives were discovered anywhere in the College of Nursing or Flores' home, Miranda said.
During the day, much of the UA Health Sciences Center was evacuated, but the University Medical Center remained open and accepted patients, Borboa said.
Many of the nursing students left belongings ÷ including house and car keys ÷ behind in the classrooms and were unable to go back in for them until late yesterday when police began letting people in to collect belongings.
All of the buildings closed yesterday will reopen today, except for the College of Nursing building, which will likely remain under police control until Wednesday, said University of Arizona Police Department Chief Anthony Daykin.
Students wishing to inquire about the status of buildings can call the Dean of Students Office at 621-7060.
For some of those students who could not get to or get into their homes due to lack of keys, rooms were being made available at the UA-operated Palm Shadows apartments, said Raymond Woosley, vice president of health sciences.
Several of the students who witnessed the second two murders were taken to the "Swede" Johnson building for counseling and so they could contact family and friends.
By 5 p.m., 15 of the student witnesses remained at the "Swede" Johnson building, Woosley said.
President Pete Likins said the psychological wounds torn by yesterday's shooting will not heal soon.
"I think people are still in shock. The entire campus community is going to be traumatized for some time," Likins said.