HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The professor accused of killing three colleagues during a faculty meeting was a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, inventor and mother whose life had been marred by a violent episode in her distant past.
More than two decades ago, police said Amy Bishop fatally shot her teenage brother at their Massachusetts home in what officers at the time logged as an accident – though authorities said Saturday that records of the shooting are missing.
Bishop had just months left teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville when police said she opened fire with a handgun Friday in a room filled with a dozen of her colleagues from the school’s biology department. Bishop was to leave after this semester because she had been denied tenure.
Police say she is 42, but the university’s Web site lists her as 44.
Some have said she was upset after being denied the job-for-life security afforded tenured academics, and the husband of one victim and one of Bishop’s students said they were told the shooting stemmed from the school’s refusal to grant her such status. Authorities have refused to discuss a motive.
William Setzer, chairman of chemistry department at UAH, said Bishop was appealing the decision made last year.
“Politics and personalities” always play a role in the tenure process, he said. “In a close department it’s more so. If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities, it’s a problem and I’m thinking that certainly came into play here.”
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.
Descriptions of Bishop from students and colleagues were mixed. Some saw a strange woman who had difficulty relating to her students, while others described a witty, intelligent teacher.
Bishop shot her brother, an 18-year-old accomplished violinist, in the chest in 1986, said Paul Frazier, the police chief in Braintree, Mass., where the shooting occurred. Bishop fired at least three shots, hitting her brother once and hitting her bedroom wall before police took her into custody at gunpoint, he said.
Frazier said the police chief at the time told officers to release Bishop to her mother before she could be booked. It was logged as an accident.
But Frazier’s account was disputed by former police Chief John Polio, who told the Associated Press he didn’t call officers to tell them to release Bishop. “There’s no cover-up, no missing records,” he said.