Monday, February 15, 2010

Alabama Professor Kills Colleagues in Faculty Meetings

The Chronicle of Higher Education has coverage of the biology professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville who shot and killed three of her colleagues in a faculty meeting.  The professor is a woman, which is unusual in this kind of massacre of work colleagues. She had been denied tenure - a full year earlier - and had both filed an appeal and was well on her way to getting another job in the area.  Her husband dropped her off at 3 pm for the meeting, as usual, and she called an hour later asking him to pick her up.  By the time he arrived, she was in police custody.  As seems always to be the case, "There had been no threats or hints of violence, he said, nor was he aware that his wife even had a gun."

The kicker comes near the end of this piece, talking about Anderson, the husband, and Bishop, the wife and alleged shooter:
The two met when they were undergraduates at Northeastern University, and Mr. Anderson was dating Ms. Bishop when she shot her brother to death more than two decades ago. He called that shooting "an absolute accident." The Boston Globe reported that there is a controversy over whether, in fact, the shooting was accidental.
 The Globe report reads in part:
The argument was not between the brother and sister, it was between the sister and her father, the report said. The young woman told them that after the argument, she had decided to practice how to load a shotgun the family had bought for self-defense after a previous break-in.

She said she loaded it but had trouble unloading it and it accidentally went off in her bedroom. Still hoping to unload it, she said, she went downstairs to ask her brother to help her, accidentally shooting him. Her mother said she had witnessed the incident and generally corroborated her account.
In Huntsville 24 years later, one of the three dead colleagues was the department chair, Gopi K. Podila, who had supported Bishop's tenure bid.

The other two victims, Maria Ragland Davis and Ariel D. Johnson, were Black faculty who did additional work on science in developing countries and in U.S. minority communties, respectively.

Another faculty member, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera was injured but released. Joseph G. Leahy (also faculty) and Stephanie Monticciolo (staff) remain in serious condition.

The Department of Biological Sciences at UA Huntsville lists 14 faculty members on its website.   Five of them were faculty of color.  Bishop apparently killed three of the five, and tried to kill a fourth.  Joseph D. Ng, an Asian American, is one of two surviving faculty of color in the department, and the only one who was unharmed.     

Much of the coverage is skeptical about the explanation of revenge for a tenure denial, and this skepticism is fueled by Bishop's apparent murder of her lead supporter, the department chair. Although two surviving victimes, Leahy and Monticciolo, are white, it is worth asking whether this might have been a racial hate crime.


UPDATE 2/16: In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the faculty member who apparently interfered with Amy Bishop's shooting spree,  Debra M. Moriarity,  offers an account that leads to this description:
Apparently, Ms. Bishop was simply going down the line, starting with the people closest to her, killing Mr. Podila, Adriel D. Johnson Sr., and Maria Ragland Davis, all professors, and severely wounding Stephanie Monticciolo, a department administrator, and Joseph G. Leahy, a professor.  All were shot in the head.
The implication is that execution-style head shots were administered by the biology professor to her department colleagues in the arbitrary order in which people happened to sit at that particular meeting.  The only untouched faculty of color in the department, Professor Ng, was indeed present.

Prof. Moriarity apparently got to Prof Bishop as she continued to fire by crawling towards her under the conference table.  A few seconds later, she arrived at Bishop's legs.
Ms. Bishop, who continued shooting the entire time, then turned her attention to Ms. Moriarity, placing two hands on the gun and pointing it at her. Ms. Bishop's expression was angry—"intense eyes, a set jaw," Ms. Moriarity recalled.

With Ms. Moriarity looking up at her, Ms. Bishop pulled the trigger twice. The gun clicked, apparently out of bullets.
This suggests that Moriarity didn't stop Bishop at all.  Bishop would apparently have killed Moriarity - "her closest colleague" in the department - and perhaps everyone else in the room if she hadn't run out of bullets.

I am skeptical of this scenario of the shooting gallery. We shall see.

UPDATE 2/22 - the New York Times has more on Bishop's  history of rages and tantrums.