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 killed her teenage brother with a shotgun at their Massachusetts home in a shooting that investigators concluded was an accident.
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, a rare woman suspected in a workplace shooting, was to leave after this semester because she had been denied tenure. Police say said 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.
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. The wounded were still recovering in hospitals on Saturday. Luis Cruz-Vera was in fair condition; Joseph Leahy in critical condition; and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo also was in critical condition.
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. Students and colleagues described Bishop as intelligent, but someone who often had difficulty explaining difficult concepts.
Bishop shot her 18-year-old brother Seth in the chest in 1986, said Paul Frazier, the police chief in Braintree, Mass. She said she was raising it when “someone said something to her and she turned and the gun went off” while her brother was walking across the kitchen, a police report said.