Police: Man shot at UC Berkeley acted strangely

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2011 10:07 PM
Police: Man shot at UC Berkeley acted strangely

A University of California, Berkeley undergraduate who apparently turned his life around to attend the university's prestigious business school was described by investigators Wednesday as having acted strangely in the weeks before he pointed a loaded gun at campus police and an officer fatally shot him.

Christopher Travis, 32, died at a hospital hours after he was shot Tuesday afternoon. Citing information from family members, UC Berkeley police Capt. Margo Bennett described Travis' behavior leading up to the confrontation as "unusual" but offered no further details and did not say why he might have brought the gun to the Haas School of Business computer lab.

Travis was gunned down by an officer who fired several shots after police say he ignored repeated orders to put the weapon down. There were 14 other people in the lab at the time, including four officers, said UC Berkeley police Lt. Alex Yao.

"We have received information from people who know him, from his family members, that over the past two weeks his behavior had changed," UC Berkeley police Capt. Margo Bennett said.

Travis started classes this fall at Haas after transferring from Ohlone Community College in Fremont, where he earned his associate's degree in business late last year. Founded in 1898, the Berkeley program is the second-oldest business school in the country and has had two faculty members in the last 15 years receive the Nobel Prize in Economics.

State records show Travis had been a licensed security guard. Police said there was no indication he had a concealed weapons permit. His gun on Tuesday was a loaded Ruger 9mm semiautomatic handgun registered to him, Yao said.

A video made by his former employer as part of a series on high-achieving workers said Travis had been a dropout with "no direction" who had once tried to end his own life by taking pills. After he began working as a guard for the company, AlliedBarton Security Services, he rose to become shift supervisor and went back to school, where he earned high grades that qualified the Lodi native to transfer to UC Berkeley.

Travis left AlliedBarton voluntarily in April 2011 and started a motivational speaking company before beginning the fall semester.

"We had no issues or concerns with him during his employment," AlliedBarton spokeswoman Samantha Thomas said.

Police, university officials and family members publicly offered little insight into what may have changed and led Travis to bring the weapon to the school and ignore officers' orders.

Bill Travis, the suspect's father, sobbed during a brief telephone interview from his home in Lodi. He said he learned his son had been shot Tuesday night and declined further comment.

In a blog post on his speaking company's website, Christopher Travis described himself as a "reformed computer nerd" who once wasted time playing video games. His new mission, he wrote, was to "help people like you to achieve your goals in life."

University authorities said a staff member first saw Travis carrying a backpack with what appeared to be a gun inside in an elevator at the business school. The staffer told a colleague, who contacted police at 2:17 p.m., saying she saw the man take the gun out of his backpack.

Police officers tracked him into the computer lab, where he was shot at about 2:22 p.m., roughly five minutes after the initial call, officials said.

At the time, four students were between Travis and the officer, UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said. None of the students was hurt, and university spokesman Dan Mogulof said there was no evidence to suggest Travis had any intentions to harm others.

"Our heart goes out to the family of this young man," Birgeneau said.

At 2:53 p.m., campus authorities sent out the first alert to the Berkeley community, saying there had been a shooting at Haas; police had the situation under control; and the area should be avoided, said Claire Holmes, an associate vice chancellor for public affairs. Another warning at 2:59 p.m. said the only suspect was in custody.

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A third alert sent nearly an hour later said there was no longer a threat and campus activities had returned to normal.

Asked whether the school's emergency alert system was effective given the reporting delay, Holmes said she felt notice was sent soon as possible.

"I think that given the situation, you're balancing the urgency to get something out with the knowledge that you currently have, and not creating a situation where people are overly concerned," she said.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report timely information about campus crimes, but only if there is a continuing threat.

S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security On Campus, a nonprofit organization that monitors the Clery Act, said Berkeley officials appeared to have followed protocol. Because police apprehended Travis within minutes of getting word he was armed and quickly contained any threat he might have posed, campus authorities weren't obliged to notify students in any particular time span, he said.

Students and administrators gathered at the business school Wednesday for a meeting about the shooting, with those attending saying numerous students were crying. Administrators promised safety upgrades at the school, and university counselors offered grief counseling to those traumatized by the shooting.

The incident was the first on-campus shooting in nearly 20 years. In a 1992 confrontation, an Oakland police officer fatally shot a machete-wielding activist from nearby People's Park after a break-in at the former chancellor's mansion.


Associated Press writers Jason Dearen, Marcus Wohlsen, Louise Chu and Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.