Prof. charged in 3 fatal shootings on Ala. campus
HUNTSVILLE, Ala (AP) – A biology professor at the University of Alabama’s Huntsville campus was charged with murder late Friday in the shooting deaths of three fellow biology professors at the campus.
Authorities say Amy Bishop, an instructor and researcher at the university, opened fire during an afternoon faculty meeting, killing the three colleagues and injuring three other school employees. Bishop has been charged with one count of capital murder, which means she could face the death penalty if convicted.
Bishop, 42, was taken Friday night in handcuffs from a police precinct to the county jail and could be heard saying, “It didn’t happen. There’s no way …. they are still alive.”
Police said they were also interviewing a man as “a person of interest.”
University spokesman Ray Garner said the three killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and two other faculty members, Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson.
Three others were wounded, two critically, in the gunfire, which Davis’ husband said occurred at a meeting over a tenure issue. The injured were identified as department members Luis Cruz-Vera, who was listed in fair condition, and Joseph Leahy, in critical condition in intensive care, and staffer Stephanie Monticello, also in critical condition in intensive care.
No students were harmed in the shooting, which is in a community known for its space and technology industries.
Sammie Lee Davis said his wife, Maria Ragland Davis, was a researcher who had tenure at the university.
In a brief phone interview, he said he was told his wife was at a meeting to discuss the tenure status of another faculty member who got angry and started shooting.
He said his wife had mentioned the shooter before, describing the woman as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”
Bishop, a neurobiologist who studied at Harvard University, joined the UAH biology faculty as an assistant professor in fall 2003.
She and her husband placed third in a statewide university business plan competition in July 2007, presenting a portable cell incubator they had invented. They won $25,000 to help start a company to market the device.
Amanda Tucker, a junior nursing major from Alabaster, Ala., had Bishop for anatomy class about a year ago. Tucker said a group of students went to a dean complaining about Bishop’s performance in the classroom, and Tucker signed a petition complaining about Bishop.
“When it came down to tests, and people asked her what was the best way to study, she’d just tell you, ‘Read the book.’ When the test came, there were just ridiculous questions. No one even knew what she was asking,”‘ said Tucker.
Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing, was in one of Bishop’s classes Friday morning.
Bennett said nothing seemed unusual, but she described Bishop as being “very weird” and “a really big nerd.”
“She’s well-known on campus, but I wouldn’t say she’s a good teacher. I’ve heard a lot of complaints,” Bennett said. “She’s a genius, but she really just can’t explain things.”
Bennett, an athlete at UAH, said her coach told her team Bishop had been denied tenure and that may have led to the shooting.
“She went to Harvard, so she is very smart. I can see that her getting denied tenure at UAH would be pretty upsetting,” said Bennett.
Nick Lawton, 25, also took an anatomy and physiology class with Bishop last semester. He described her as funny and accommodating with students.
“She lectured from the textbook, mostly stuck to the subject matter at hand,” Nick Lawton said. “She seemed like a nice enough professor.”
Sophomore Erin Johnson told The Huntsville Times a biology faculty meeting was under way when she heard screams coming from a conference room.
University police secured the building and students were cleared from it. There was still a heavy police presence on campus Friday night, with police tape cordoning off the main entrance to the university.
The Huntsville campus has about 7,500 students in northern Alabama, not far from the Tennessee line. The university is known for its scientific and engineering programs and often works closely with NASA.
The space agency has a research center on the school’s campus, where many scientists and engineers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center perform Earth and space science research and development.
The university posted a message on its Web site Friday afternoon telling students the campus was closed Friday night and all students were encouraged to go home. Counselors were available to speak with students.
It’s the second shooting in a week on an area campus. Last Friday, a 14-year-old student was killed in a middle school hallway in nearby Madison, allegedly by a fellow student.
“This town is unaccustomed to shootings and multiple deaths,” Garner said.
Mass shootings are rarely carried out by women, said Dr. Park Dietz, who is president of Threat Assessment Group Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based violence prevention firm.
A notable exception was the 1985 rampage by Sylvia Seegrist, who opened fire in a mall in Springfield, Pa., killing three. Dietz, who interviewed Seegrist after her arrest, said it was possible the suspect in Friday’s shooting had a long-standing grudge against colleagues or superiors and felt complaints had not been dealt with fairly.
Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI agent and private criminal profiler based in Fredericksburg, Va., said there is no typical outline of a mass shooter but noted they often share a sense of paranoia, depression or a feeling that they are not appreciated.
“They think somebody is out to get them or has mistreated them in some way,” McCrary said. “They go back to right this perceived injustice.”
Associated Press Writers Phillip Rawls and Desiree Hunter in Montgomery, Ala., Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles, and Jacob Jordan and Daniel Yee in Atlanta contributed to this report.