By Kimberly Miller
Arizona Summer Wildcat
It's an ordinary day in one of the many computer labs on campus. You're doing some research and putting the finishing touches on a paper.
Suddenly, only two minutes into your work, you hear a loud pop and turn to see a blank-faced man pointing a gun at you.
Another pop and your Snapple bottle explodes nearby. You run for an open office as one more shot is fired in your direction.
Sound like a movie?
Not to Rochelle Yalkowsky, a 24-year-old economics graduate student, who experienced the above scene two weeks ago when John Culver Mead fired five shots at Yalkowsky and two others in a computer lab in the Social Sciences building.
Mead, of the 100 block of South Eastbourne, was arrested shortly after the incident and has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one count of felony endangerment. He is awaiting a psychological evaluation and trial in the Pima County Jail.
Although police said this was a random act of violence they believe it is a sign of the times that students on the University of Arizona campus need to be aware of.
"I would not think of it as an isolated incident," said Sgt. Salvatore Celi of the UAPD. "I think that our society is becoming more violent in general and this is simply a sign of that."
Celi, who interviewed Mead soon after the shooting, said he looked like someone who belonged on campus. Mead, 52, carried a briefcase to conceal the gun and could have easily been mistaken for a professor.
He has no prior criminal record and as early as May 15 of this year was substitute teaching at an eastside elementary school. He also was enrolled at the UA last semester and had a class in the Social Sciences building.
"He is a fairly well-educated and coherent person and I could not find any indication that would dictate why he did what he did," Celi said.
Initial reports of the incident by UAPD and local newspapers stated that Mead had fired several shots at a computer in the room. But Mead admitted to Celi that he was aiming at the three people and said he was a bad shot.
"He told me, when I asked him if he was specifically aiming at these people, 'yes,'" Celi said. "He kept saying that he would rather not talk about why he did it."
The lab attendant on duty at the time, who prefers to remain anonymous, said at one point he though he had been shot.
"I ran for my office after the first shot and then he fired another shot," the attendant said. "Before I got in the office I was sure that I'd been hit because he was so close. I felt he obviously had the gun aimed at me. I turned around and I just couldn't believe that he had missed. I just thought that I hadn't felt it yet."
The attendent was upset by the initial handling of the incident because he believes it was made out to be a joke about a computer being shot when three people could have been murdered.
"I think it was irresponsible on two counts," the attendant said. "First it was bad journalism and second I think the UAPD has deliberately been reporting it as a shooting which only had people nearby. And deliberately misrepresenting the fact that he (Mead) was shooting at people by his own
admission. I think that comes from pressure from the administration.
"I was at a meeting at the Social Sciences building and a representative of the university administration was there and they said how concerned Dr. Pacheco was about it. I expected to hear something about how concerned he was about the people there, but no, he was concerned that everyone know that it's a safe campus," the attendant said.
He did praise the support given him by the Social and Behavioral Sciences administration and his friends and acquaintances.
UAPD Sgt. Brian Seastone agreed that initial stories of the shooting made light of the incident but defended UAPD's press release which he said was written early in the investigation and with limited information.
A survey done by the Chronicle of Higher Education of 796 colleges with populations over 5,000 found that reports of violent crimes have increased over the past few years. Aggravated assaults climbed 2.7 percent from 1992 to 1993, and robberies were up 2.2 percent. UAPD reported seven aggravated assaults in 1994, down from 11 in 1993.
University campuses can foster a false sense of security to many students, and although Yalkowsky said this incident will not completely change her life, she believes students need to realize that random acts like this occur everywhere.
"I still think that campus is a relatively safe place but I do believe students need to be a little more cautious sometimes," Yalkowsky said. "I don't mean paranoid but just a little more aware of who and what's around you."
Yalkowsky said she has talked to counselors at Student Health about the shooting but does not feel it necessary to continue.
"In some ways this is a big deal because it's probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened in my life," Yalkowsky said. "But it wasn't super-traumatic because I know it was random and not personal.
"I don't believe in massive assault rifles. But even now, after the incident, I do believe that anyone without a criminal record has the right to carry a small handgun."
Yalkowsky, who said she will be watching the case very closely, believes Mead needs psychological help and said she told the judge that at the preliminary hearing. She said given Mead's experience as a substitute teacher she is almost relieved that he chose herself and the two other adults to shoot at.
"In some ways I think we're fortunate that he lost it on us instead of on a bunch of elementary school kids," Yalkowsky said. "We're all mature enough to get over this and get on with our lives but for some children it may have affected them for life."
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