A Northern Arizona University professor was arrested Oct. 30 and indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on five counts of felony stalking – one involving a student -- and three counts of giving false information to law enforcement.
Melissa Ann Santana, 36, who worked as an associate professor of interior design, is accused of habitually stalking and harassing two firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service hotshot crew in Flagstaff, the wife of one of the firefighters, one of their friends, and an NAU student.
The stalking occurred from February 2015 to September 2017 and was largely committed through electronic communication, according to U.S. District Court documents. Santana committed the offenses using “many different identities, email addresses, social media accounts and temporary telephone numbers.”
The names of the victims are redacted in the report.
Santana was arrested on the NAU campus on Oct. 30 by United States Forest Service law officers. NAU spokeswoman Kimberly Ott said on Monday that Santana was no longer employed at the university but would not comment on her arrest.
“The university does not comment on what appears to be an ongoing criminal matter,” Ott said.
Hotshots and false statements
Santana met both firefighters through the online dating app Tinder. She met the first firefighter, labeled as N.L. in court documents, in November 2015, where she used the online alias “Ann, 29” according to court documents.
N.L. told law enforcement that he had a sexual relationship with the married professor, meeting mostly in her NAU office and his house, until June 2016, when he ended the relationship.
The second firefighter, labeled as K.T. in court documents, was matched on Tinder with Santana, also under the alias “Ann, 29” in August 2016 and told her he wanted to meet in September 2016. He told law enforcement that he quickly learned that it was the same person who was harassing his coworker.
According to court documents, both men received harassing messages from Santana under multiple false names such as “Laura Towner” and “Kendall Patterson.”
The messages, according to the documents, ranged from sentimental, such as a text to N.L. that said “I miss you so much,” to malicious, with Santana telling K.T. to “be like the Granite guys and go die in a fire,” referring to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.
She later sent a message to K.T’s fiancé, under the alias “Kelli Torrence,” claiming that she was having a sexual relationship with K.T.
Santana allegedly vandalized one firefighter’s car by keying an expletive into the driver side door and slashing his tires. She also threatened to post another firefighter’s picture online and advertise him for sexual services.
In September 2016, Santana sent an email under the name “Cathy McCarthy” to multiple supervisors of the hotshot crew claiming that Flagstaff hotshots raped her 15-year-old daughter while heading to a fire near Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Rock Springs Police Department told Forest Service investigators that no Cathy McCarthy lives in the town, according to the federal court’s criminal complaint. Investigators also confirmed that the IP address attached to the email belonged to Santana.
The criminal complaint also states that Santana sent a text message using a fake number to the Globe Hotshot Superintendent Dean Whitney on September 2016.
The text said, “Can you please tell REDACTED to call me. He won’t return my phone calls, I’m pregnant, it’s his. He needs to take responsibility. Thanks.”
She sent the same message to the Flagstaff hotshot crew superintendent.
One NAU student,, whose name was also redacted, told Forest Service investigators that he met Santana through a Craigslist post in 2014 and met her in person for the first time in February 2015. The student told the investigator that “stalking on the NAU Facebook page began about a week later.”
The student said he received “harassing phone calls from various unknown numbers, emails and posts on his personal Facebook page.”
He said the cyber-harassment also included a “smear campaign” against him that he had sexually transmitted diseases. The student did not mention Santana by name, but the Northern Arizona IP address shows that the computer’s user searched the names of the hotshot firefighters N.L. and K.T as well as their families.
Court documents state that the student’s friends were harassed online by Santana under the fake name “Amanda Foster.” One of his friends was fired from her job after “continuous false post and emails that claimed she steals.”
The student told investigators that “he confided about being stalked to Santana” and described the former professor as a friend.
United States Magistrate Judge Charles R. Pyle ordered Santana to be detained, according to court documents. He denied her release on the grounds that she was a danger to the public and a flight risk due to her use of multiple aliases over three years.
The document did not state where Santana is being held.
If convicted she faces a maximum sentence of 40 years, according to federal court documents.