ATHENS, Ga. – A college professor suspected in the shooting deaths of his wife and two men outside a community theater hasn’t used his cell phone or credit card, leaving few traces as authorities searched for him Sunday.
George Zinkhan, a 57-year-old marketing professor at the University of Georgia, was last seen Saturday afternoon shortly after the shooting when he dropped his two young children off at a neighbor’s house, police said.
Authorities initially described one of the victims, Marie Bruce, as Zinkhan’s ex-wife, although police later said the couple were still married.
Investigators have received no tips about Zinkhan’s whereabouts and urged people to call police if they see his 2005 red Jeep Liberty with Georgia license plate AIX1376.
State and federal authorities are assisting in the search. Investigators were monitoring airports in case Zinkhan tried to head to Amsterdam, where he owns a home, and speaking with law enforcement agencies in Austin, Texas, where he has relatives. Meanwhile, friends of the victims dropped off flowers and lit candles Sunday morning in front of the Athens Community Theater. The victims – Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63 – were members of Town & Gown Players, a local theater group that was staging a performance of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” this weekend at the theater. Two others were hurt by shrapnel.
“Ben, Marie and Tom were a part of our family, and as painful as their loss is for us, we know it is even more painful for their families,” the theater group said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “There are no words we can use to adequately express our grief.”
It was midday Saturday when a few dozen members of the theater group were gathered at the Athens Community Theater a short distance from campus. Some described it as a reunion, a homecoming for current and former group members. Most were inside the theater, while a small group was gathered around a few benches outside.
Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman said an argument erupted between Zinkhan and Bruce. Holeman said police believe Zinkhan walked away briefly, then returned with two handguns.
Each victim was shot multiple times, according to the county coroner.
Holeman said Zinkhan had his son and daughter with him when he went to the theater, but left them in the Jeep when the shooting occurred.
None of the 20 witnesses interviewed by police overheard the argument and couldn’t say what prompted the shooting. When Zinkhan dropped off his children, who are about 8 and 10, he told his neighbor, Robert Covington, that he needed someone to watch them for about an hour because of an emergency.
Zinkhan, who has a doctorate from the University of Michigan, is a professor at UGA’s Terry College of Business and had no disciplinary problems, university spokesman Pete Konenkamp said. Before joining the school in the 1990s, he held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh.