A 28-year-old University of Alabama doctoral student is being held on $500,000 bond after sending threatening messages to staff members, Media Relations Director Cathy Andreen said Tuesday.
According to the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office website, Zachary Burell is charged with one count of making terrorist threats and one count of first-degree stalking. The TCSO’s website refers to Burell as ‘Zachary Burrell.’
Burell, a doctoral candidate in theoretical physics according to his academic web page hosted on the University’s domain, was suspended for alleged violations of the Student Code of Conduct in late October 2012, Andreen said.
According to a deposition filed in Tuscaloosa County District Court, Burell then began sending emails that included movie clips suggesting violence toward University officials.
“He was also issued a no-trespass order prohibiting him from being on campus,” Andreen said of the time period between Burell’s suspension and arrest. “The emails did not contain direct threats to the general campus population.”
Andreen would not comment on what alleged UA violations Burell committed.
“Judicial Affairs records are covered by federal privacy laws and we cannot provide any more information,” she said.
Sophomore Andrew Sbrissa, who met Burell at Bryant Dining Hall last school year, said he became friends with Burell and would see him around campus. Sbrissa called Burell an “incredibly smart guy.”
“He was always fairly talkative with me and the friends I’d be with, but I could tell he was a reserved person and fairly quiet,” Sbrissa said. “It was also evident that he was a very focused student and always wanted to share his passion for physics.”
According to Burell’s academic web page and LinkedIn account, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in physics from Auburn University in 2007 before obtaining a Master’s of Science in the same field from Alabama in 2011. He graduated from Locust Fork High School, located about 30 miles north of Birmingham, Ala., in 1998.
In addition to working as a research assistant at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Space Research Institute and Alabama’s Center for Materials for Information Technology in the last six years, Burell works as a graduate teaching assistant at the University.
His LinkedIn page lists teaching experience in Engineering Physics I, Engineering Physics II, Astronomy Lab and College Physics II.
On ratemyprofessors.com, a website commonly used by college students to provide public feedback on classes or professors they’ve had, Burell has a 3.8 out of 5 overall quality rating.
In a comment dated from 2009, an Astronomy 102 student rated Burell as ‘Average Quality.’
“Zac [sic] is a pretty cool guy,” the commenter wrote. “If you don’t understand, just ask… and tell him to slow down. He knows what he is talking about, he just doesn’t really know how to say it.”
Sbrissa said he didn’t know of Burell being arrested until The Crimson White approached him for comment Tuesday but was surprised by the news.
“He had mentioned that even as a graduate student here at UA, he had been bullied before,” Sbrissa said. “I wanted to get to know him more so that he’d have someone to talk to and someone to just call his friend.”