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Ala. prof's family, friends: No hint of violence to come

Monday, February 15, 2010

(Photo)
This police booking photograph released by the Huntsville (Ala.) Police Dept., on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010, shows college professor Amy Bishop, charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of three faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
(AP Photo/Huntsville Police Dept.)
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 had 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 Friday afternoon, leaving three dead and another three wounded.

Jim Anderson -- the father of Bishop's husband, James Anderson -- said 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 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 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 said they did not know about her brother's death.

Police say the gun she's accused of using in the Alabama shooting wasn't registered, and investigators don't 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 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 wasn't 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, the 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."


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