Duquesne had barred shooter after harassment complaints
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John F. Shick, who investigators say opened fire with two weapons Thursday in Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic before police fatally shot him, was barred from Duquesne University's campus in November after the school said he harassed female students by text and email.
The university Saturday confirmed that Mr. Shick -- who police said shot six people, killing one -- enrolled in August at Duquesne as a graduate biology student and served as a teaching assistant.
Within about a month of his arrival, the school began receiving complaints from approximately eight female graduate students in the department about what Duquesne said were incessant texts and emails from the 30-year-old, who apparently wanted to start a relationship.
"He was very persistent, especially with a couple of them," Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said. "Some he wanted to date. Others he wanted to study with, to make friends. He wanted to form relationships.
"He said things like he wanted to get to know people in Pittsburgh," Ms. Fare added.
The notes were not threatening, she said. Nevertheless, "the students said they did not want to have any kind of relationship with him."
The students decided against filing a criminal complaint with campus police, Ms. Fare said. However, David Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, filed a charge against Mr. Shick with the university's office of student conduct.
On Oct. 21, Duquesne relieved Mr. Shick of his teaching assistant duties, which had included supervising two course sections with another teaching assistant.
The university held a Nov. 3 conference on the accusations against Mr. Shick before Susan Monahan, director of the office of student conduct, Ms. Fare said. Mr. Shick's mother accompanied him to the 15-minute conference.
Mr. Shick admitted sending messages and was found "responsible" by Duquesne of harassment.
As a sanction, the university placed him on a "prohibited persons list for all Duquesne University buildings and property," Ms. Fare said. In addition, he was barred from having any contact with female biology students in the Bayer School.
She said he chose not to appeal and instead withdrew from the university the same day as the hearing. He sent a thank you note to hearing personnel afterward.
Students studying biology at Duquesne University tried to avoid Mr. Shick, especially after they began hearing rumors that he was bothering some women by constantly sending them text messages, said Carole Wolfe, an undergraduate studying biology. Ms. Wolfe said she never interacted with Mr. Shick but often spotted him in the computer lab, sometimes listening to the "Harry Potter" theme song without headphones, which annoyed surrounding students. She said he often mumbled to himself. It wasn't unusual to see him sporting a fanny pack and carrying a backpack as well as two shopping bags.
"I would just kind of stay away from him," she said, adding that Mr. Shick always seemed "odd" but never seemed threatening. Still, she said she "wasn't so much surprised" when police identified Mr. Shick as the shooter.
Investigators said it appears Mr. Shick fatally shot 25-year-old Michael Schaab in the chest, while Mr. Shick died of gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
Though Mr. Shick's brief stay at Duquesne apparently was troubled, a spokesman for Carleton College in Minnesota said Saturday he knew of no disciplinary or behavioral issues involving Mr. Shick during the man's years there.
Mr. Shick enrolled in 1999 in a "three-two" program in which he studied his first three years at Carleton and his final two at Columbia University in New York City. Mr. Shick graduated with a bachelor's in chemistry from Carleton and a bachelor of science in engineering, said Eric Sieger, a spokesman for the prominent liberal arts campus of approximately 2,000 students.
As an undergraduate student, Mr. Shick showed promise. He spent at least one summer researching schizophrenia at the Mailman Research Center in the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Dr. Francine Benes, who oversaw some interns, said she remembered little about Mr. Shick except that he was a "bright" and "attractive" young man who worked diligently.
"The faculty members in the chemistry department are still pretty shocked and taking this all in," Mr. Sieger said. "It's just a very sad and tragic instance."
Stephen Edwards, a Columbia computer science professor, said Mr. Shick worked with him on a small independent project that "wasn't particularly spectacular" or particularly memorable.
He remembers Mr. Shick's seeming inability to finish small tasks that he was given, appearing promptly at their weekly meetings but with the work undone week after week.
"It was clear ... that he was having a very hard time of it," Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Shick also seemed "more tightly wound than many of the other students," Mr. Edwards said, and at least one administrator noted how much anger and frustration he showed. He said that when he heard of the shootings, he thought, "I could see something like that happening from a person like him. Who knows what demons he was fighting?"
Said Ms. Fare, "It's a tragedy."
First Published March 11, 2012 12:00 am