Police arrested a former University employee Saturday morning after a five-day investigation in connection with a shot fired in University President Nils Hasselmo’s office Tuesday.
Jennifer Joan May is being held in Hennepin County jail, and police expect to charge her early this week.
May admitted her involvement in the incident and handed over a .38 caliber weapon Saturday morning after police investigators showed up at the home of May’s mother, where the suspect was staying.
University Police searched the house of May’s mother at 3401 Pillsbury Ave. S. Friday evening after obtaining a search warrant.
On Tuesday, May allegedly entered Hasselmo’s office, demanding to see the president. After being told she would have to wait, May allegedly fired a bullet into the ceiling using what witnesses said was a .38 caliber handgun.
May, 36, was a University employee from 1981 to 1991. She worked as a secretary in the chemistry department from about 1987 to 1991, according to University staff directories from those years. Before 1987, May was a secretary for the surgery department at University Hospital.
University Police Chief Joy Rikala said the police investigation narrowed to May after witnesses viewed a composite sketch and picked out May’s picture from a photo lineup.
University Police confirmed that May had prior contact with the president’s office through records of incoming phone calls in which May identified herself.
Hasselmo’s staff remembered a female who had called the office repeatedly for months, requesting to speak to the president and using profanity similar to that used by the perpetrator during the incident.
“That was a very key piece in narrowing the focus of our suspect,” Rikala said.
May stopped phoning the office after Hasselmo’s staff told her that her calls could be considered harassment, Rikala said.
May had not come into the office before the incident, Rikala said.
Former co-workers at the chemistry department expressed surprise when learning about May’s alleged involvement with the incident.
May was “a very friendly gal,” said Gladys Olson, who was associate administrator of the chemistry department when May worked there.
John Evans, a professor and former academic vice chairman for the chemistry department, expressed concern for May after hearing of her connection with the incident.
Evans said May had brought charges of sexual harassment to a University grievance committee against W. Ronald Gentry, academic chairman of the chemistry department, while she worked as his secretary.
“The final outcome was that her charges were not upheld,” Evans said. “I think she might have left (the department) out of frustration.”
Gentry could not be reached for comment.
Evans said May was a “very nice” person who seemed to be having trouble with her husband while employed at the chemistry department.
“And then there was this situation that evolved (with Gentry), and that exasperated her whole situation. She was not a happy person. She was very frustrated and confused,” Evans said.
Evans didn’t think May’s grievance was pursued in the legal system and said he never discussed the charges of sexual harassment with her.
“I think probably because I was vice chairman and Gentry was chairman at the time,” he said, “I don’t think she felt comfortable discussing it with me.
“There was a distinct effort made to try to keep her employed at the department.”
He said he believed there was an attempt to have her work for other faculty members after she made charges against Gentry.
Evans said he believed she quit the department after filing the sexual harassment grievance.
When she left, “it was definitely from duress,” said Evans, who added that he has not spoken to May in several years.
May was married and had two children during the time she worked for the chemistry department.
On Thursday, Hennepin County Judge Kevin Burke suspended the Minnesota Data Practices act, to allow campus police to search private files and review photographs of University employees. Under Data Practices, the police would ordinarily not have been able to access the information.
Burke’s court order comes about a month before an amendment to the law takes effect allowing police to search records under extraordinary circumstances. The law takes effect Aug. 1.