HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – An Alabama professor accused of shooting six colleagues was vocal in her resentment over being denied tenure and the looming loss of her teaching post, though relatives and students said she never suggested she might become violent.
Not even Amy Bishop’s husband knew she might turn violent, according to the man’s father. Everyone from family and friends to her students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville said the intelligent and at times awkward teacher seemed normal in the hours before police say she opened fire in a faculty meeting last Friday afternoon, leaving three dead and another three wounded.
Jim Anderson, the father of Bishop’s husband, James Anderson, told The Associated Press on Sunday his son had no idea Bishop was planning the bloodshed she’s accused of.
“He knew nothing. He didn’t know anything,” the father said. He said that the police had spoken with his son at length and that “they are doing a good job.”
Indeed, there were many things Bishop apparently did not reveal to those around her.
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. In all, three shots were fired: Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier said she shot once into a wall, then shot her brother, then fired a third time into the ceiling.
Authorities released her and said the episode was a tragic accident. She was never charged, though Frazier on Saturday questioned how the investigation was handled.
Some of Bishop’s colleagues, including William Setzer, chairman of the department of chemistry, told The Associated Press they did not know about her brother’s death.
Police say the gun she’s accused of using in the Alabama shooting was not registered, and investigators do not know how or where she got it.
Bishop, who has four children, was arrested soon after the shooting and charged with capital murder. Other charges are pending. Her husband was detained and questioned by police but has not been charged.
James Anderson said his wife had an attorney but would not say who it was. He declined further comment to The Associated Press on Sunday. However, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier in the day that he had no idea his wife had a gun nor did he know of any threats or plans to carry out the shooting when he dropped her off at the faculty meeting Friday.
Just after the shooting, Anderson told the Chronicle, she called and asked him to pick her up. She never mentioned the shooting, he said.
Even in the days and hours before the shooting, Bishop’s friends, colleagues and students said she was acting like the intelligent but odd professor they knew.
UAH student Andrew Cole was in Bishop’s anatomy class Friday morning and said she seemed perfectly normal. Kourtney Lattimore, 19, a sophomore studying nursing who had Bishop for anatomy and physiology courses, said she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
“She was fine. It was a normal day,” Lattimore said.
Bishop had worked closely for three years with Dick Reeves, who had been CEO of BizTech, which had been working with her to market a cell incubator she invented to replace traditional equipment used in live cell cultures. Bishop often mentioned the issue of tenure in their discussions, Reeves said.
“It was important to her,” he said.
However, the two had spoken as early as Wednesday, and Reeves said she showed no signs of distress.
Tenure, a type of job-for-life security afforded academics, is often a stressful process for anyone up for review, Setzer said. Bishop was up front about the issue, often bringing it up in meetings where the subject was not appropriate.
“That was another thing that made her different,” Setzer said. “In committee meetings she didn’t pretend that it wasn’t happening or anything. She was even loud about it: That they denied her tenure and she was appealing it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Some have said the shootings stemmed from Bishop’s tenure dispute, though authorities have refused to discuss a motive. Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing and an athlete at UAH, said a coach told her team that Bishop had been denied tenure, which the coach said may have led to the shooting.
Killed were Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis. Three people were wounded. Two of them, Joseph Leahy and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo, were in critical condition early Sunday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, had been released from the hospital.
Sammie Lee Davis, Davis’ husband, said in a brief phone interview that he was told a faculty member got angry while discussing tenure at the meeting and started shooting. He said his wife had described Bishop as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”
Bishop was calm as she got into a police car Friday, denying that the shootings occurred. “It didn’t happen. There’s no way. … They are still alive.”
Portraits of the Slain University of Alabama-Huntsville Faculty Members
By Diverse staff
Maria Ragland Davis
A specialist in molecular biology and plant genetics, Dr. Maria Ragland Davis, a 52-year-old associate professor of biology, became an UAH faculty member in 2000 after leaving private industry. A Ph.D. graduate of North Carolina State University, Davis is remembered as a highly productive researcher and inspiring teacher.
The Huntsville Times has reported that university officials regarded Davis as a top notch recruit from Research Genetics, the biotechnology company at which she worked prior to joining UAH, and one of the university’s most promising researchers.
“When (Research Genetics) got bought out, we had the opportunity to hire her,” then-UAH provost Dr. Lewis Radonovich told The Huntsville Times. “Maria has just flourished in the last couple of years. She’s had numerous research grants, a great publication record, numerous graduate students, and just done very well.”
Pre-nursing major Carissa Alderton of Union Hill, Ala., was a student in Davis’ “Introduction to Biology” class this past fall along with more than 100 students, according to the newspaper.
“It was a very challenging class, but I enjoyed the course,” Alderton told The Huntsville Times. “She was always on time, and she was always prepared.”
As an associate biology professor, Dr. Adriel Johnson, who was 52, conducted research largely in cell biology and nutritional physiology. At the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Johnson is remembered for volunteer work as a local Boy Scout leader and as an advocate for underrepresented minority participation in STEM disciplines.
The Huntsville Times has reported that Johnson, who had two sons, volunteered with the First Missionary Baptist Church troop and had been the recipient of the Boy Scout district award of merit, the Whitney Young Award for exceptional work with urban and rural Scouts, and the Silver Beaver, the highest award a volunteer Scout leader can receive. Johnson also was the director for the UAH chapter of the Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, according to the newspaper.
“Adriel had an exceptional ability to work with youth,” local Scout leader Bill McCoy told The Huntsville Times, who is on the Scouts’ district committee for advancement. “He was dedicated to the Scouts of Madison County, and his passing is a tremendous loss to all of them.”
Dr. Jack Fix, dean of the UAH College of Science, called Johnson “a good university citizen” who was willing to work with students from any major to prepare for higher degrees in health care, dental school or medical school, according to The Huntsville Times.
Dr. Gopi Podila arrived in Huntsville in 2000 with dreams of building a world-class university biology department in a city he believed was destined to emerge as the biotechnology hub of the South. After leaving the Michigan Technological University, Podila became the UAH biology department chair and helped launch a biology doctoral program at the university.
“We needed a department chair who was an experienced researcher, an accomplished biologist,” Dr. Lewis Radonovich, the former UAH provost told The Huntsville Times. “Gopi was a highly principled, fine human being. He was a solid man, a good man. He tried very hard to support his young faculty.”
Podila, who was 52, is remembered as a warm and personable leader. His chief areas of research were plant genetics, biotechnology bioenergy and plant-microbe interactions, plant genetics and biotechnology. Podila said in 2008 that his department was researching fungi and microbes that could help break down the cellulose from grass and trees to create the sugar necessary to produce alcohol for biofuel, according to The Huntsville Times.
Rena Webb, who is working on her master’s degree in biology, told The Huntsville Times that as her adviser, Podila, was “the nicest man I’ve ever known.”
“You don’t feel like a graduate student; you feel like part of a family,” Webb said.
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