Police say suspect in Alabama campus killings had fatally shot brother in 1986

Amy Bishop, a professor, was denied tenure.
Amy Bishop, a professor, was denied tenure. (AP)
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By desiree hunter and kristin m. hall
Sunday, February 14, 2010

HUNTSVILLE, ALA. -- The professor accused of killing three colleagues during a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama campus here Friday is 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.

Police said Bishop, 42, had just months left teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville when she opened fire Friday in a room filled with a dozen of her colleagues from the biology department. Bishop was to leave after this semester because she had been denied tenure. She has been charged with capital murder and could face the death penalty.

Authorities have refused to discuss a motive, and a school spokesman said the faculty meeting wasn't called to discuss tenure. William Setzer, chairman of the chemistry department at the school, said Bishop was appealing the decision, made last year.

"Politics and personalities" always play a role in the tenure process, he said. "If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities, it's a problem -- and I'm thinking that certainly came into play here."

Descriptions of Bishop from students and colleagues varied. Some said she had difficulty relating to students; others described her as witty and intelligent.

In 1986, she shot her 18-year-old brother in the chest in Braintree, Mass. Bishop fired at least three shots, hitting her brother once before police took her into custody at gunpoint, authorities said. Details of the incident remained unclear Saturday.

After being educated at Harvard University, Bishop moved to Huntsville and in 2003 became an associate professor at the campus. The school has close ties to NASA and is known for its engineering and science programs.

Experts said campus shootings usually occur because the shooter has a festering grievance university officials haven't addressed, and the granting of tenure can be a polarizing and politicized process for many academics.

It's rare for the stresses of the tenure process to lead to violence, and even rarer for a woman to be accused in an incident like the one Friday, which also injured three of Bishop's colleagues, two critically.

"Workplace shootings of that kind are overwhelmingly male," said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

-- Associated Press


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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