An Interior Department official allegedly shot to death Friday by his 29-year-old son was described yesterday by neighbors and colleagues as a parent who sacrificed to give his children the best education possible and then worried when they seemed to become perennial students without direction or careers.
Montgomery County police yesterday obtained a murder and assault warrant for Lawrence Fishman in connection with the incident that left his 60-year-old father, Frederick, dead and his mother, Evelyn, also 60, wounded. The son was last seen driving away from his parents' Silver Spring house in a silver blue Oldsmobile Cutlass with Massachusetts tags, according to police.
Fishman was found shortly after 7 p.m. Friday, lying in the driveway of his home at 9832 Cherry Tree Lane, with several gunshot wounds in his upper body. His wife, shot in the neck, was found in a front yard two doors away.
Lawrence Fishman, an attorney like his father and the second of three children, had attended several schools before graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley and completing law school there two years ago. He had been admitted to the practice of law in Pennsylvania after failing to pass the California bar several times, according to a friend of the family.
His elder brother, Richard, was killed in a terrorist bombing of a bus while he was visiting Israel in June 1968. Ruth, his younger sister, lives in California.
They were a part of the do-your-own thing generation of the 1960s and '70s, by some accounts, whose lifestyles contrasted with that of their father, a career government official of disciplined mind and direction. Fishman, according to one neighbor, tended towards a conservative view of life.
A coworker at Interior's Bureau of Land Management said Fishman, an administrative law judge widely respected for his legal knowledge and erudite opinions, considered his sons particularly gifted and was deeply disappointed by their apparent drift.
"I used to talk to Fred like a Dutch uncle and tell him, 'You help your kids too much,'" said Newton Frishberg, a longtime colleague who formerly served as chairman of the Board of Land Appeals of which Fishman was a member. "From the little I could see, Fred and Evelyn were, if anything, overly generous," he said.
"He denied himself things to give them the best education, everything," said another colleague. "He put his children's welfare above anything for himself."
The Fishmans "were sort of unhappy about their children," agreed Geza Thuronyi, the Fishmans' next-door neighbor in a suburban subdivision just north of the Capital Beltway. "They [the children] kept studying and not having a steady job. Their parents felt they should settle down and have a career."
Thuronyi, an editor at the Library of Congress, said Fishman "sort of indicated [Lawrence] didn't pursue the kind of career he wished him to. They just wanted him to start a career." Lawrence Fishman was an infrequent visitor to his parents' home, Thuronyi said.
"The last time I saw him was two or three months ago, when he and his sister were cutting shubbery around the house," he said. "We assumed everything was all right."
According to Frishberg, the Interior Department colleague, Fishman's second son had once won a national spelling honor of which "Fred was very proud" and the father had described him as bright, articulate and an excellent writer. "Fred said, 'if you think I'm a good writer, you should see Larry.'"
But the youth seemed to drift from place to place without purpose, Frishberg said Fishman felt, attending schools in Florida, London and, finally, Berkeley. In California, Frishberg said, Lawrence Fishman took the bar exam several times but never passed. He did, however, pass the Pennsylvania bar, Frishberg said, and recently held a temporary job in Philadelphia. He did not know details of the son's job, however.
The other Fishman children appeared to follow a similar pattern, Frishberg and Thuronyi said. Richard, the oldest, attended the University of Pennsylvania, grew organic food in New England, decided to become a doctor. After taking the requisite undergraduate courses, however, he postponed his admission to the University of Maryland Medical School to study Orthodox Judaism.
After his second year of medical school, Richard Fishman took a year off to research medical ethics in the Talmud, the Jewish book of law, and then went to Israel for a two-week vacation. It was on that trip that he was killed.
"Fred was terrified about him going to Israel," said Frishberg. "Richard's death was terribly, terribly traumatic for him."
The Fishmans' youngest also demonstrated eclectic interests. Ruth Fishman's focus shifted from languages to dancing, a neighbor said. Frishberg said she also attended different colleges. She could not be located for comment.
Fishman's 40-year government career included stints with the Bureau of Land Management in Denver and Washington, as Interior's legislative counsel, and as special assistant to a number of assistant secretaries. A member of the Massachusetts and Colorado bars, he became an administrative judge in 1971. He would have retired in January.
His neighbors and colleagues described Fishman as an intellectual with a witty, and sometimes biting sense of humor. He was given to Latin phrases and Yiddish maxims. A colleague on the Land Appeals Board said he "knew all the precedents and law. He had a terrific legal mind."
"He was in the office Friday," said James L. Burski, a fellow board member whose office adjoined Fishman's. "He seemed fine. We were kidding about a case in which he was writing the majority opinion and I was writing the dissent. He was there from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. I said goodbye to him. I thought I'd see him Monday, and that was it."
Fishman died at Suburban Hospital at 9 p.m. Friday. His wife was treated there and released early Saturday.