Police: Ala. Prof Shot Brother Dead in '86

WHNT-TV Screen Grab of Amy Bishop, accused of killing three colleagues at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. WHNT

Updated at 9:22 p.m. ET

A University of Alabama professor accused of fatally shooting three colleagues at a faculty meeting this week shot her younger brother dead at their home in the Boston suburbs more than 20 years ago, but records of it are missing, police said Saturday.

Amy Bishop shot her teenage brother in the chest in 1986, Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier said at a news conference. Bishop, who was 19 at the time, fired at least three times from a shotgun, hitting her brother in the chest after they argued, he said.

She fled, pointing the shotgun at a car to try to get it to stop, then was about to point it toward police before an officer took her into custody at gunpoint, Frazier said. But before Bishop could be booked, former police Chief John Polio instructed officers to release her to her mother, who had served on a police personnel board, Frazier said.

"The police officers here were very upset about that," said Frazier, who was a patrolman at the time and spoke to officers who remembered the incident that day, including one who filed a report on it.

The shooting of the brother, Seth Bishop, an 18-year-old accomplished violinist, was logged that day as a "sudden death" and later considered accidental, but detailed records of the shooting have disappeared, he said.

"The report's gone, removed from the files," he said. "Somebody has it. We don't."

The police chief said Saturday that he planned to meet with the local district attorney over the possibility of launching a criminal investigation into how the Bishop case was handled.

Polio said Saturday in an interview at his Braintree home that he was astonished at any implication of a coverup. He said he didn't instruct officers to release Bishop and wasn't close to her mother, who he said served on the police board years before the shooting.

"(There's) no coverup, no missing records," said Polio, now 87. "If they're missing, they're missing since I retired."

A story on the Dec. 6, 1986, shooting in the Quincy Patriot Ledger newspaper quoted Bishop's mother, Judith Bishop, saying the gun accidentally went off into a bedroom wall when her daughter was trying to teach herself to use it in case the home was burglarized. Amy Bishop then asked her brother to help her unload the gun when it went off again, killing him in front of her, Judith Bishop told the newspaper.

Polio said Saturday that at the time there were questions about whether Amy Bishop intended to kill her brother because of conflicting reports about whether the two had argued or had just been horsing around when the gun was fired.

Polio said Amy Bishop was taken into custody as "a safekeeping thing" to question her but was not arrested. The head of detectives eventually recommended the office of then-District Attorney William Delahunt, now a U.S. congressman, hold an inquiry into the shooting, Polio said.

A March 1987 report by Delahunt's office determined the cause of death was "accidental discharge of a firearm," based on interviews with Bishop and her parents. It didn't mention an argument between Bishop and her brother.

The report by Trooper Brian Howe said Bishop's "highly emotional state" after the shooting made it impossible to question her. Since her mother had seen the shooting and said it was an accident, police decided to question the family later after everyone calmed down, the report said.

Howe and Braintree police questioned the family members individually on Dec. 17, 1986. Bishop said she wanted to unload the weapon and started to lift it when "someone said something to her and she turned and the gun went off" while her brother was walking across the kitchen, according to the report.

When Bishop fled the house, she said she wasn't aware she'd hit her brother and was instead worried she'd ruined the kitchen, the report said. She said she didn't recall anything, including taking the gun from the house, until she saw her mother later at the police station, it said.

Polio said the officer who took Bishop into custody told Polio he was upset she was released but "it was an isolated cop, telling me something. It wasn't a big movement."

Polio stepped down as police chief in 1987 after more than 37 years with the department, including 25 years as chief. He said he served honorably and his integrity shouldn't be questioned.

"That's one thing that could never be called into question," he said. "I don't blink at that, except it annoys me."

A University of Alabama at Huntsville spokesman said Bishop, who is in her 40s, had been denied tenure before she was held Friday in the campus shooting.

As Bishop was being taken to jail in handcuffs Friday night she said: "It didn't happen. There's no way."

Photos: Shooting on Campus

Attempts by The Associated Press to track down addresses and phone numbers for the previous police chief and Bishop's family in the Braintree area weren't immediately successful Saturday.

One of the victims in Friday afternoon's shooting described Bishop as "not being able to deal with reality," according to the victim's husband.

Sammie Lee Davis, whose wife Maria Ragland Davis was killed at a faculty meeting, said his wife also described the alleged shooter, 42-year-old Amy Bishop, as "not as good as she thought she was."

Bishop was charged Friday night with one count of capital murder, which means she could face the death penalty if convicted. Three of Bishop's fellow biology professors were killed and three other university employees were wounded. No students were harmed in the shooting, which happened in a community known for its space and technology industries.

Several sources told CBS News affiliate WHNT-TV in Huntsville that after being denied tenure in the morning, the suspect walked into a biology department faculty meeting Friday afternoon and opened fire.

Davis said he was told those at the meeting were discussing tenure for Bishop, who had been an assistant professor since 2003. Authorities have not discussed a motive.

Dave Williams, the university's president, said the "whole campus is in shock," but wouldn't speculate on a motive for the shooting.

Appearing on CBS' "The Early Show Saturday Edition", Williams said classes would be canceled next week and the school has not determined when they will resume.

Students offered varying assessments of Bishop.

Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing, described Bishop as being "very weird" and "a really big nerd."

"She's well-known on campus, but I wouldn't say she's a good teacher. I've heard a lot of complaints," Bennett said. "She's a genius, but she really just can't explain things."

Bennett, an athlete at UAH, said her coach told her team Bishop had been denied tenure and that may have led to the shooting.

Amanda Tucker, a junior nursing major from Alabaster, Ala., had Bishop for anatomy class about a year ago. Tucker said a group of students complained to a dean about Bishop's performance in the classroom.

"When it came down to tests, and people asked her what was the best way to study, she'd just tell you, 'Read the book.' When the test came, there were just ridiculous questions. No one even knew what she was asking," said Tucker.

But Nick Lawton, 25, described Bishop as funny and accommodating with students.

"She lectured from the textbook, mostly stuck to the subject matter at hand," Nick Lawton said. "She seemed like a nice enough professor."

UAH student Andrew Cole was in Bishop's anatomy class Friday morning and said she seemed perfectly normal.

"She's understanding, and was concerned about students," he said. "I would have never thought it was her."

Bishop, a neurobiologist who studied at Harvard University, was taken Friday night in handcuffs from a police precinct to the county jail and could be heard saying, "It didn't happen. There's no way. ... They are still alive."

Police said they were also interviewing a man as "a person of interest."

University spokesman Ray Garner said the three killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and two other faculty members, Davis and Adriel Johnson.

Three others were wounded, two critically, in the gunfire. The wounded were identified as department members Luis Cruz-Vera, who was listed in fair condition, and Joseph Leahy, in critical condition in intensive care, and staffer Stephanie Monticello, also in critical condition in intensive care.

Sammie Lee Davis said his wife was a researcher who had tenure at the university.

Bishop and her husband placed third in a statewide university business plan competition in July 2007, presenting a portable cell incubator they had invented. They won $25,000 to help start a company to market the device.

Biology major Julia Hollis was among the students who gathered to support each other and try to make sense of the news.

"When someone told me it was a staff person and it was faculty I was in complete denial," said Hollis, 23, who had taken classes with two of the instructors who were killed. "It took me a bit for it to sink in."

Sophomore Erin Johnson told The Huntsville Times a biology faculty meeting was under way when she heard screams coming from a conference room.

University police secured the building and students were cleared from it. There was still a heavy police presence on campus Friday night, with police tape cordoning off the main entrance to the university.

The Huntsville campus has about 7,500 students in northern Alabama, not far from the Tennessee line. The university is known for its scientific and engineering programs and often works closely with NASA.

The space agency has a research center on the school's campus, where many scientists and engineers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center perform Earth and space science research and development.

The university will remain closed next week and all athletic events were canceled to give students and staff time to grieve. Counselors were available to speak with students.

It's the second shooting in a week on an area campus. On Feb. 5, a 14-year-old student was killed in a middle school hallway in nearby Madison, allegedly by a fellow student.

Mass shootings are rarely carried out by women, said Dr. Park Dietz, who is president of Threat Assessment Group Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based violence prevention firm.

A notable exception was a 1985 rampage at a Springfield, Pa., mall in which three people were killed. In June 1986, Sylvia Seegrist was deemed guilty but mentally ill on three counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder in the shooting spree.

Dietz, who interviewed Seegrist after her arrest, said it was possible the suspect in Friday's shooting had a long-standing grudge against colleagues or superiors and felt complaints had not been dealt with fairly.

Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI agent and private criminal profiler based in Fredericksburg, Va., said there is no typical outline of a mass shooter but noted they often share a sense of paranoia, depression or a feeling that they are not appreciated.
  • CBSNews

Comments