Biology prof. taken into custody in fatal shooting at University of Alabama in HuntsvilleBy Kristin M. Hall, AP
Friday, February 12, 2010
Prof. in custody in fatal shooting on Ala. campus
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Authorities say a woman opened fire during a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama’s Huntsville campus, killing three biology professors and injuring three other school employees.
University spokesman Ray Garner said the shooter was caught outside the building without incident, and no students were harmed in the shooting Friday.
Several students identified the woman who was being taken into custody as Amy Bishop, an instructor and researcher at the university. She 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.”
Local media also named the biology professor as the suspected shooter, though Garner said he could not identify her.
Police said no charges had been filed and they were interviewing the woman suspect and a man identified as “a person of interest.”
Garner said the three killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and two other faculty members, Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson.
Two others are in critical condition, and a third who was wounded was upgraded to fair condition. The injured 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, Maria Ragland Davis, was a researcher who had tenure at the university.
In a brief phone interview, he said he was told his wife was at a meeting to discuss the tenure status of another faculty member who got angry and started shooting.
He said his wife had mentioned the shooter before, describing the woman as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”
Bishop, a neurobiologist from Harvard University, joined the UAH biology faculty as an assistant professor in fall 2003.
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.
Amanda Tucker, a junior nursing major from Alabaster, Ala., had Amy Bishop for anatomy about a year ago. Tucker said a group of students went to a dean complaining about Bishop’s performance in the classroom, and Tucker signed a petition complaining about Bishop.
“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.
Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing, was in one of Bishop’s classes Friday morning.
Bennett said nothing seemed unusual, but she 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.
“She went to Harvard, so she is very smart. I can see that her getting denied tenure at UAH would be pretty upsetting,” said Bennett.
Nick Lawton, the son of a biology professor at the school, said his father was not among the victims, but he did not know much more.
Lawton, 25, also took an anatomy and physiology class with Bishop last semester. He described her 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.”
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 posted a message on its Web site Friday afternoon telling students the campus was closed Friday night and all students were encouraged to go home. Counselors were available to speak with students.
It’s the second shooting in a week on an area campus. Last Friday, a 14-year-old student was killed in a middle school hallway in nearby Madison, allegedly by a fellow student.
“This town is unaccustomed to shootings and multiple deaths,” Garner said.
Associated Press Writers Phillip Rawls and Desiree Hunter in Montgomery, Ala., and Jacob Jordan and Daniel Yee in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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