Relatives Wonder How Ala. Shooting Prof. Hired

Monday, 15 Feb 2010 02:18 PM

 

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Grieving relatives of three professors gunned down at a university faculty meeting questioned why their accused colleague was hired despite a dispute with a former boss who received a pipe bomb and the shooting death of her brother.

Amy Bishop is charged in the three deaths and the wounding of three other professors at a meeting Friday at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She was vocal in her resentment over being denied tenure and the looming loss of her teaching post, though relatives and students said she had never suggested she might become violent.

The outbreak of violence was followed by weekend of revelations that Bishop had a difficult past that she did not discuss with her Alabama colleagues.

In 1986, Bishop shot and killed her 18-year-old brother with a shotgun at their Braintree, Mass., home. She told police at the time that she had been trying to learn how to use the gun, which her father had bought for protection, when it accidentally discharged.

Authorities released her and said the episode was a tragic accident. She was never charged, through current Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier questions how the investigation was handled.

In another incident, The Boston Globe reported that Bishop and her husband were questioned by investigators looking into a pipe bomb sent to one of Bishop's colleagues, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, at Children's Hospital Boston in 1993. The bomb did not go off, and nobody was ever charged.

Bishop's father-in-law, Jim Anderson, told The Associated Press that his son and daughter-in-law "were cleared when the evidence proved they had nothing to do with it."

He said ATF conducted the investigation. "They focused on the wrong persons and let the bad guy(s) flee," he said.

Sylvia Fluckiger, a lab technician who worked with Bishop at the time, said Bishop had been in a dispute with Rosenberg shortly before the bombs were discovered, though she didn't know the nature of the disagreement.

"It was common knowledge," she told the AP Sunday.

Bishop told Fluckiger she was questioned by police. "They must have had their reasons," Fluckiger said.

The widower and two stepdaughters of one of the professors killed said they were shocked that Bishop was hired by the university, given her past.

"I think they need to do a little more investigation when coming down to hiring teachers and things like that. Maybe looking a little deeper into their past about certain things. This is a lot coming out ... It's a shocker," said Melissa Davis, whose stepmother was Maria Ragland Davis, on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday.

Her sister Latashia Davis said she was angry: "How did she even get a job working at the school if she had this type of background?"

Still, those who knew Bishop said nothing suggested she might become violent. Several family members, friends and students said the intelligent and at times awkward teacher seemed normal in the hours before police say she opened fire in a faculty meeting Friday afternoon.

Investigators have declined to discuss a motive, but Bishop didn't hide her displeasure over the fact she'd been denied tenure — a type of job-for-life security afforded to academics.

Police say the gun she's accused of using in the Alabama shooting wasn't registered, and investigators don't know how or where she got it.

Bishop, who has four children, was arrested soon after the shooting and charged with capital murder. Three counts of attempted murder were filed against Bishop over the weekend, according to jail records. Her husband was detained and questioned by police but has not been charged.

James Anderson said his wife had an attorney but would not say who it was. He declined further comment to The Associated Press on Sunday. However, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier in the day that he had no idea his wife had a gun — nor did he know of any threats or plans to carry out the shooting when he dropped her off at the faculty meeting Friday.

Just after the shooting, Anderson told the Chronicle, she called and asked him to pick her up. She never mentioned the shooting, he said.

UAH student Andrew Cole was in Bishop's anatomy class Friday morning and said she seemed perfectly normal. Kourtney Lattimore, 19, a sophomore studying nursing who had Bishop for anatomy and physiology courses, said she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

"She was fine. It was a normal day," Lattimore said.

Bishop had worked closely for three years with Dick Reeves, who had been CEO of BizTech, which had been working with her to market a cell incubator she invented to replace traditional equipment used in live cell cultures. Bishop often mentioned the issue of tenure in their discussions, Reeves said.

"It was important to her," he said.

However, the two had spoken as early as Wednesday, and Reeves said she showed no signs of distress.

Killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Davis. Three people were wounded. Two of them — Joseph Leahy and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo — were in critical condition Monday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, had been released from the hospital.

Sammie Lee Davis, Davis' husband, said in a brief phone interview that he was told a faculty member got angry while discussing tenure at the meeting and started shooting. He said his wife had described Bishop as "not being able to deal with reality" and "not as good as she thought she was."

Bishop was calm as she got into a police car Friday, denying that the shootings occurred. "It didn't happen. There's no way. ... They are still alive."

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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