The professor accused of killing three colleagues during a faculty meeting was a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, inventor and mother whose...
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The professor accused of killing three colleagues during a faculty meeting was a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, inventor and mother whose life had been marred by a violent episode in her distant past.
More than two decades ago, police said, Amy Bishop fatally shot her teenage brother at their Massachusetts home in what officers at the time logged as an accident, although authorities said Saturday that records of the shooting are missing.
After being educated at Harvard, Bishop moved to Huntsville and in 2003 became an associate professor at the University of Alabama’s campus. The school, with about 7,500 students, has close ties with NASA and is known for its engineering and science programs.
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As of Saturday morning, authorities said, Bishop had been charged with one count of capital murder, and more charges were expected. Three people were wounded in the shooting.
Police say she is 42, but the university’s Web site lists her as 44.
Some have said she was upset after being denied the job-for-life security afforded tenured academics, and the husband of one victim and one of Bishop’s students said they were told the shooting stemmed from the school’s refusal to grant her such status. Authorities have refused to discuss a motive, and school spokesman Ray Garner said the faculty meeting wasn’t called to discuss tenure.
William Setzer, chairman of the chemistry department at the university, said Bishop was appealing the decision made last year.
“Politics and personalities” always play a role in the tenure process, he said. “In a close department it’s more so. If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities, it’s a problem and I’m thinking that certainly came into play here.”
Bishop presided over her regular neuroscience class Friday before going to a biology faculty meeting on the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology.
There she sat quietly for 30 or 40 minutes, said one faculty member who had spoken to people who were in the room. Then Bishop pulled out a 9-mm handgun and began shooting, firing several rounds before her gun either jammed or ran out of ammunition, police said. At least one person in the room tried to stop Bishop, said Sgt. Mark Roberts of the Huntsville Police Department.
After Bishop left the room, the police said, she dumped the gun — for which she did not have a permit — in a second-floor bathroom. The people left behind barred the door, fearing she would return, the faculty member said.
Bishop was arrested outside the building minutes later, Roberts said at a news conference on Saturday.
She shot her brother, an 18-year-old accomplished violinist, in the chest in 1986, said Paul Frazier, police chief in Braintree, Mass., where the shooting occurred. Bishop fired at least three shots, hitting her brother once and hitting her bedroom wall before police took her into custody at gunpoint, he said.
Frazier said the police chief at the time told officers to release Bishop to her mother before she could be booked. It was logged as an accident.
Frazier’s account was disputed by former police Chief John Polio, who said he didn’t call officers to tell them to release Bishop. “There’s no cover-up, no missing records,” he said.
Attempts to track down addresses and phone numbers for Bishop’s family in the Braintree area weren’t successful Saturday. The current police chief said he believed her family had moved away.
The shooting at the Huntsville campus occurred about 4 p.m. Friday, officials said. A 911 call came at 4:10, the authorities said. Few students were in the building, and none was involved in the shooting, Garner said.
Officials said the dead were all biology professors: G.K. Podila, the department’s chairman; Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel D. Johnson Sr. Two other biology professors, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera and Joseph Leahy, and a professor’s assistant, Stephanie Monticciolo, were at Huntsville Hospital Saturday. Cruz-Vera was in fair condition; the others were in critical condition.
Garner said Bishop was first told last spring she had been denied tenure. Generally, the university does not allow professors to stay on after six years if they have not been granted tenure, and this would have been the final semester of Bishop’s sixth year.
The university has an appeals process, and people who know Bishop said she had appealed the decision.
Bishop may have had academic problems, but her business prospects seemed good. She and her husband, James Anderson, had invented an automated system for incubating cells that was designed as an improvement over the Petri dish. The system was to be marketed by Prodigy Biosystems, which raised $1.2 million in capital financing.
“From the way it looked to us, looking from the outside, she’s had success,” said Krishnan Chittur, a chemical-engineering professor.
Chittur said Bishop was a respected scientist who nevertheless had trouble getting along with colleagues. As members of the biotechnology program, students have to pass core classes in biology, chemistry and chemical engineering. But Bishop became convinced, he said, that the chemical-engineering professors were trying to keep biology students from succeeding by making the classes too difficult.
“It was one of those things that ultimately became irrational with her, in my opinion,” he said.
Bishop and her husband, who was questioned by the police Friday, have four children.