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.
Dr. 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 Bishop had never suggested she might become violent.
The outbreak of violence was followed by a 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 Bishop and said the episode was a tragic accident. She was never charged, though 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 no one 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.”
Anderson said the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms 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 did not 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 did not 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 is accused of using in the Alabama shooting was not registered, and investigators don’t know how or where she got the gun.
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.
Killed were Dr. Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Dr. 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, has been released from the hospital.
Associated Press writer Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.