UPDATE: U. of Alabama Professor Charged in Shooting

Published: February 15, 2010

Three University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) employees were killed and three were wounded in an on-campus shooting Feb. 12. Five of the victims were faculty members and one was a staff member.

Dr. Amy Bishop, a Harvard-University trained neuroscientist and UAH biology professor is the suspected shooter and has been charged with capital murder. Her husband was also briefly in custody but has not been charged.

The suspect, who is the mother of four, was in a regularly scheduled faculty meeting where she was told she would not receive tenure. She then pulled out a 9mm firearm and began shooting. The Associated Press is reporting that a witness to the shooting claims Bishop methodically shot her victims in the head until the gun jammed and she was pushed out of the room. Twelve members of the biological sciences department were present at the time of the shooting.

Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis were killed. Joseph Leahy, Stephanie Monticciolo and Luis Cruz-Vera were injured.

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The incident occurred on the third floor of Shelby Hall at about 4 p.m. Campus police arrived at the scene four minutes after someone called 9-1-1, and they were followed soon thereafter by the Huntsville Police and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, according to a UAH news release. The dorms were locked down about 10 minutes later.

No students were involved, although 50 of them were in the building at the time of the shooting. Still, some students say they didn’t receive alerts from the campus emergency alert system or they received the messages nearly an hour after the shooting. In response to the complaints, UAH President David Williams announced in an E-mail that school officials will look into how the system can be improved.

Counseling is being offered. Additionally, the campus will close February 15 through the 19th. All classes will be canceled and all campus and athletic events will also be canceled during the week of February 15 through 19. The university remains open for those faculty and staff who wish to report to work. A memorial service is planned for Friday, February 19.

ABC News is reporting that in 1986, Bishop shot and killed her 19-year-old brother, an accomplished violinist. Investigators determined the previous shooting was an accident, although some of the officers who handled the case suspect it wasn’t accidental.

UAH officials were unaware of this incident when they hired Bishop in 2003, and according to Andrews International Western Regional Senior Vice President John Nagy, a background check would not have divulged this information because there wasn’t a conviction. “Being so long ago, the way that some states have it, there would be no record of that at all,” he told Campus Safety magazine. “In some states, you can only go back seven years for criminal records anyway.”

Various news sources also report that Bishop was resentful that UAH denied her tenure, although no one, including her family, friends and students, expected her to become violent. She taught classes the day of the shooting, but did not indicate anything was wrong.

The UAH shootings follow another shooting in Knoxville, Tenn., where a 48-year-old fourth-grade teacher allegedly shot the principal and vice principal of Inskip Elementary School on Feb. 10. Shortly before the shooting, the suspect, Mark Stephen Foster, had been informed by the victims that his employment contract would not be extended.

Nagy recommends campuses review how they handle the tenure and renewal of faculty contracts. “Now, instead of security being right outside in the hall and ‘We’ll let you know if it goes badly,’ I think we need to be involved prior to the termination and maybe have a checklist,” he said. “Perhaps security can sit in and be part of the changing of that person’s life.”

For more information, click here.

To read the UAH campus update, click here.

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