Professor accused of stalking members of hotshot crews

During the investigation one crew was grounded — unable to be dispatched to wildfires.

Melissa Ann Santana firefighters hotshots stalking
Melissa Ann Santana. Photo: Flagstaff Police Department.

A former college professor has been indicted and charged with stalking wildland firefighters on two Arizona hotshot crews. Melissa Ann Santana, who at the time was an associate professor of interior design at Northern Arizona University (NAU) at Flagstaff, was arrested October 30, 2017. On November 14 she was indicted by a federal grand jury on eight felony charges, five for stalking, and three for making false statements to federal officials of the U.S. Forest Service.

The day after her arrest her employment ended at the University.

The 36-page federal complaint prepared by Sophia Fong, a Special Agent with the U.S. Forest Service, lays out in intricate detail numerous allegations of Ms. Santana harassing, threatening, following, calling supervisors of firefighters, and posting false information on social media sites. The investigators used multiple search warrants on the sites and Ms. Santana’s cell phone to link her to the false identities used.

Her main targets were firefighters with the Globe and Flagstaff Interagency Hotshot Crews. The victims of the stalking charges include two members of the Flagstaff Hotshots, the fiancée (and later wife) of a Flagstaff Hotshot, a student at NAU, and an unlucky man who was visiting his father in Flagstaff.

The felony “making false statements” allegations are for contacting the Superintendents of the two crews telling both of them, using a false name for herself, that one of their firefighters had impregnated her. She complained that he was not returning her calls — when in fact Ms. Santana had no relationship with the firefighter. She is also accused of telling three supervisors on the  Flagstaff Hotshots, again while using a false identity for herself, that her teenaged daughter was sexually assaulted by firefighters while they were assigned to a fire in Wyoming. The complaint says Ms. Santana does not live in Wyoming, does not have a daughter, and no such assault took place.

On September 9, 2016, during the investigation, the Flagstaff Hotshots were grounded, and prevented by the Forest Service from accepting an assignment on the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California. This was near the end of their fire season and would have probably been their last fire. It resulted in a significant loss of overtime income for the crew.

The personal vehicles of two of the victims were vandalized, but the complaint does not say it was done by Ms. Santana. One of the cars was spray painted and the license plate was stolen. The plate later mysteriously appeared at the incident command post at a fire. On the  other car the word “s***” was  was “keyed”, or scratched into the paint and a tire was punctured with a knife.

Of course the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but below we list some of the allegations against Ms. Santana in the federal complaint.

A member of the Flagstaff Hotshots was matched on Tinder to “Ann, 29” in August of 2016. Initially he communicated with her until he realized it was the same person who had contacted one of his co-workers. The next month he received a Tinder message from “Kendall”, but he deleted it and blocked the sender. Then “Kendall Patterson” sent him a message on Facebook:

Hey (redacted) yea, remember me. You are a worthless piece of s***. You do a job that requires no brains what so ever. You are just a tree cutter and hole digger. The government finds you as a disposable front line against fire. You can easily be replaced by a younger dumber version. You are worthless that they don’t really care if a whole crew the the granite mountain guys die. Because you guys don’t provide a unique service….. Be a success like the granite guys and die at your next fire.

In other messages through another Tinder account, this firefighter confronted her to find out what was going on. She explained it was a Snapchat game where they post conversations of guys they “screw over”. More points were awarded for hotshots than engine crews. She mentioned a number of hotshot crews, including Flagstaff, Blue Ridge, Mesa, Black Mesa, Prescott, Morman Lake, Carson, Payson, Sawtooth, and Snake River.

Ms. Santana used 19 different identities to initially contact, threaten, and harass the victims:

Tinder:

  • Ann, 29
  • Ann, 27
  • Amanda, 25
  • Kendall
  • Ann

Facebook:

  • Melissa Santana
  • Ann Santa 73
  • Kendall Patterson 127
  • Kendall Patterson 7393
  • Amanda Foster
  • Jo Hotshot
  • Kelli Torrance
  • Lara Towner
  • Lauren Kholey
  • Brandi Scroggins

Instagram

  • Amanda Foster
  • Msantana1030

Kik messenger

  • ms1930

And an unspecified alias on Craigslist Las Vegas.

We listed them here in case there are other firefighters that were stalked or harassed by this person that have not yet been contacted by the Forest Service investigators.

The fiancée, now wife, of one of the Flagstaff Hotshots, was targeted by Ms. Santana who posted on the fiancée’s Facebook page the following comment below an engagement photo:

Look at these love birds, Too bad I f***** her fiancé over and over while he was out fighting a fire. He even wanted to keep the relationship going. Said he regretted proposing.

Two weeks later Ms. Santana sent a text message to the woman saying she and the woman’s fiancé were in love and that since the fire season was over they could see each other more often. When she did not respond, Ms. Santana texted back, saying “You’ll regret not talking to me”, and later, “I will show up at your work to address this”. Later that day she was in a restaurant, McMillan Bar and Kitchen, near her workplace. Just after arriving she received a text from Ms. Santana, saying, “Hopefully the mcmillan is fun”. This terrified the woman who two days later purchased a handgun for protection from the stalker.

Ms. Santana knew the time and place of the planned wedding and texted the fiancée, “I guess I will see you [there]. I will probably be f****** in the coat check before you walk down the aisle, unless he dumps your ass before then”. Ms. Santana continued to send similar messages in the months leading up to the wedding, prompting the couple to hire security for the event.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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6 thoughts on “Professor accused of stalking members of hotshot crews”

  1. This surreal to me,is this person a mental case? I’d say yes,but what if anything prompted this? I once lived with a woman whom I was truly afraid of,I feared for my life,and after I got out of it and moved into my folks garage as temp housing,she hired a guy who was a friend of my best friend to kill me,thankfully the guy told my buddy and they went to the police,who came to me,thankfully my time in the FD allowed me to have a good relationship with 90% of the loacal officers and from my job as a plumber had many friends in the county and in the DAs office,this woman spent 5 years locked up,then offed herself when a second victim confronted her about their relationship.

    1. Indeed, what prompted this? According to the Washington Post:

      “During the investigation into the Sept. 29 allegations, the Forest Service investigator Fong stumbled upon three members of wildfire crews who had previous contact with Santana, an affidavit filed in federal court said. All are only identified by initials. All met her on Tinder, a dating app.

      N.L., a member of the Flagstaff crew, admitted to recently ending a sexual relationship with Santana. The two were matched on Tinder in November 2015. Santana used the name”Ann” and stated she was “looking for friends for daytime fun.” They began exchanging messages and meeting up. N.L., however, “became increasingly uncomfortable with the relationship and ended it in June, 2016,” the affidavit said. Santana, however, “did not react well to the termination of the relationship,” and continued to message the firefighter.”

      Hook-up sex gone bad. Who would have thunk? If convicted, she faces 40 years in prison.

  2. This situation is in fact surreal. It appears that many Fed LE and prosecutor folks have done a very good job of investigating this sad incident. Thanks to all who dug in on this and will make it possible for this case to come before the court.

    Bill Plough

  3. Behavior like this was one of the reasons why I never took my husband’s name when we married. Not all of the public embraces federal employees. Some days it is just best to use your first name and last initial.

  4. I have known several FF/LE officers with federal agencies who have been stalked like this even in the pre-computer days of 70-80s. It can be a real pain for the people being stalked. The NPS LE mentality in the late 70 was how could a man not enjoy being stalked and he should enjoy the attention. Then there were many women who were stalked/harassed/assaulted by fellow employees and supervisors and if they spoke up were blackballed or fired if a seasonal or transferred to some very remote undesirable location.

    I glad to see the FS took aggressive prompt actions on this. I feel badly the crew lost a good assignment and the end of season OT.

    As a LE officer I investigated a couple of cases of stalking and both male/female suspects were very strange, mentally sick and unbalanced people.

  5. Wow. Is there any known explanation (not conjecture) available as to why she targeted Hotshots or was there a history of other groups/persons she fixated on? … (As if we all don’t have enough trouble in our lives.) Not even sure if it’s worth posing the question – the explanation maybe unfathomable.

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