HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A professor who survived a deadly university shooting rampage said the colleague charged in the attack methodically shot her victims in the head until the gun apparently jammed and she was pushed out of the room.
Associate professor Joseph Ng told The Associated Press on Tuesday he was one of 12 people at a biology department meeting Friday at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. He described the details in an e-mail to a colleague at the University of California-Irvine.
Ng said the meeting had been going on for about half an hour when Amy Bishop “got up suddenly, took out a gun and started shooting at each one of us. She started with the one closest to her and went down the row shooting her targets in the head.”
Bishop, a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, was arrested and charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder.
It’s not the first time Bishop has been accused in a killing. In 1986, she killed her 18-year-old brother with a shotgun at their suburban Boston home. She told police she had been trying to learn how to use the gun, which her father had bought for protection, when it accidentally discharged.
The killing was ruled an accident, but John Polio, who headed the Braintree, Mass., police department at the time, now has questions about the investigation.
Polio, 87, at first defended the handling of the case. But he said Tuesday he has “myriad” concerns about a report on it, which he saw for the first time over the weekend.
Polio said the district attorney’s office was not obligated to provide him with the reports, but, as a common courtesy, he usually received them. He did not in Bishop’s case.
“When I first read them, from a police standpoint and a professional standpoint, I would have wanted a lot more questions answered,” he said.
Polio said there were no ballistics tests included, and he also thought it odd that there was an 11-day gap between the death and interviews with family members, apparently because they were too distraught to talk sooner.
The Norfolk County district attorney at the time was William Delahunt, now a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. He was traveling in Israel and could not immediately be reached for comment on the case.
John Kivlan, the former assistant district attorney who reviewed the case, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that there was nothing then to indicate Seth Bishop’s death was anything but an accident. He said a joint investigation by state and local police as well as the medical examiner’s office all came to that conclusion.
But current Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier questions how the investigation was handled. Frazier said Amy Bishop also fired once into a wall before hitting her brother, then fired a third time into the ceiling.
An auto mechanic who worked at a dealership near Bishop’s home in 1986 told the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe that Bishop ran in after shooting her brother, waved a gun and demanded a getaway car.
Tom Pettigrew, 45, recalled that Bishop said she had had a fight with her husband and that he was going to come after her, so she needed to flee. Pettigrew said Braintree police briefly questioned him and several other employees, but authorities never contacted him again.
Kivlan, who is now retired and living in Sarasota, Fla., said he did not recall that element of the case.
Some victims’ relatives have questioned how Bishop was hired at the university in 2003 after she was involved in her brother’s killing and another, separate probe.
In 1993, Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, were questioned by investigators looking into a pipe bomb sent to one of Bishop’s colleagues, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, at Children’s Hospital Boston. The bomb did not go off, and nobody was ever charged.
Anderson defended himself and his wife as innocent people questioned by investigators casting a wide net. He said the case “had a dozen people swept up in this and everybody was a subject, not a suspect.”
“There was never any indictment, arrest, nothing, and then everyone was cleared after five years,” he said.
University President David Williams said Tuesday that a review of Bishop’s personnel file and her hiring file raised no red flags. He said a criminal background check after Friday’s deadly shooting turned up neither of the previous cases because charges were never filed.
Huntsville police spokesman Sgt. Mark Roberts also said his department did not find out about either of the older cases until after the shooting on campus. He said police were checking to confirm details of the pipe bomb probe.
Killed in Friday’s shooting were Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis. Three were wounded. Professor Joseph Leahy remains in critical condition, and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo was in serious condition Tuesday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, was released from the hospital.
Ng said all six of those shot were on one side of an oval table.
“The remaining five, including myself, were on the other side of the table (and) immediately dropped to the floor,” he wrote.
Ng told the Associated Press the shooting stopped almost as soon as it started. He said the gun seemed to jam and he and others rushed Bishop out of the room and then barricaded the door shut with a table.
Ng said the charge was led by Debra Moriarity, a professor of biochemistry, after Bishop aimed the gun at her and attempted to fire. When the gun didn’t shoot, Moriarity pushed her way to Bishop, urged her to stop, and then helped force her out the door.
“Moriarity was probably the one that saved our lives. She was the one that initiated the rush,” Ng told the AP. “It took a lot of guts to just go up to her.”
Ng said the survivors worried Bishop would shoot her way through the door and frantically worked up a backup plan in case she burst through. But she never did.
“There was a time when I didn’t think I’d come out of the room alive,” he said. “I don’t think any of us thought we’d come out alive.”
Anderson said his wife had practiced at a shooting range not long before the shooting. Anderson said that she acted normally while they were at the range and that none of her behavior in recent days foreshadowed Friday’s rampage.
“She was just a normal professor,” Anderson told The Associated Press during an interview at his home Monday.
Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard said Bishop was arraigned in jail Monday but no court date has been set. He also said no decision has been made on whether to ask for the death penalty if she is convicted. She is on suicide watch, which is routine in such cases.
Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Huntsville, Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Mark Pratt in Boston, and Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.