By Greg Bluestein and Steve LeBlanc
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama–Old police records on a professor charged in a recent deadly campus shooting reveal that after she shot her brother to death in 1986, a shooting later ruled accidental , she was found crouching behind a parked car, holding a loaded shotgun.
Details of her 18-year-old brother’s death and its investigation have surfaced since Amy Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, was arrested and charged in a university shooting rampage at a faculty meeting Friday that left three people dead and three injured. Relatives of victims in last week’s shooting have questioned whether much of the violence could have been prevented if the earlier case had been handled properly.
The details come from police reports released last Tuesday, as law enforcement officials said there was probable cause to file weapons and assault charges against her at the time of the shooting at the family’s home in Braintree, Massachusetts.
Bishop’s past encounters with the law have also included 2002 charges for a fight over a child’s booster seat at a restaurant and her questioning in an attempted pipe bombing in 1993.
The police reports from the 1986 shooting say Bishop told officers she came downstairs from her bedroom at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, to get help unloading a shotgun. As she walked into the kitchen, she said, her mother told her not to point the gun at anyone and she turned and the gun went off, striking her brother, Seth, in the chest.
Bishop had fled with the gun, and two officers tracked her down outside a car dealership near her home. As one officer asked Bishop to put the gun down, a second officer, using a truck as cover, moved within about 5 feet (1 1/2 meters) of Bishop.
“I drew my service revolver and yelled three times drop the rifle,” Officer Timothy Murphy wrote. “After the third time she did.”
Police examined the shotgun and found it loaded with a 12-gauge round. A second round was discovered in her pocket.
The police report from 1986 had been sought since the Alabama shooting. After reviewing them, Norfolk, Massasschusetts, District Attorney William Keating said Bishop could have been arrested on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon and unlawful possession of ammunition. Even so, Keating said, the police reports don’t necessarily contradict Bishop’s mother’s claim that the shooting was an accident. Also, the statute of limitations has expired.
U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, who was the district attorney at the time, said last Wednesday he has limited memory of the shooting. He spoke with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he is traveling and said his former first assistant was in charge of the case and has responded to questions about it.
“I understand I haven’t had a real opportunity to get into the details of the case but I suspect when I return I’ll have an opportunity to become debriefed and I know there have been statements but I’m not really in a position to see any records,” Delahunt said.
Bishop, a 44-year-old, Harvard-educated neurobiologist, was under extra guard at an Alabama jail, charged with capital murder and attempted murder. She could face the death penalty, although the local prosecutor said he has not yet decided whether to pursue capital punishment.
Two black scientists and the head of the Biology Department at the University of Alabama, Huntsville died last Friday when another faculty member allegedly opened fire, killing the three and wounding three others. Each of the slain educators will be fondly remembered, university officials said. Adriel Johnson, 52, specialized in research on gastrointestinal physiology. When he wasn’t busy preparing for lectures or working in labs, Johnson often volunteered to teach Boy Scouts in the area about nature. He had been on the faculty at UAH since 1989. Maria Ragland Davis, who specialized in cell development, had been on the UAH faculty since 2002. She had been a researcher with Research Genetics Inc., in Huntsville and with Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri. She also worked briefly as a research assistant at Alabama A&M University. Gopi Podila, 52, specialized in molecular biology. A native of India, Podila had been on the UAH faculty since 2001.
The three survivors; professor Joseph Leahy remained in critical condition and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo was in serious condition Tuesday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, was released from the hospital.
The shootings erupted in the middle of a regular monthly faculty meeting. Assistant professor Joseph Ng, one of a dozen people at the meeting, said Bishop drew a gun and opened fire.
Bishop was targeting faculty members sitting closest to her, Ng said. As his injured colleagues went down, he and other survivors dived under the conference room table.
Then, within seconds, the shooting stopped, because her weapon had apparently jammed.
The lull gave the survivors an opportunity. Debra Moriarity, a biochemistry professor, scrambled toward Bishop and urged her to stop shooting, Ng said. Bishop aimed the gun directly at her and pulled the trigger, but it failed to shoot, he said.
Moriarity then led the charge that forced Bishop out the door.
Moriarity said in an interview with ABC television aired Wednesday that Bishop pointed the gun at her and tried to shoot several times. “I know I yelled at her, ‘Amy, think about my grandson, think about my daughter,”’ she said.
“She looked like she was intent on doing this, and she was angry,” Moriarity said.
After Bishop was pushed out of the room, the faculty members propped the conference room table against the door and called police. Then they braced for her to return, but Bishop never came back , and Ng still isn’t quite sure why.
Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, were also questioned in 1993 by investigators looking into a pipe bomb sent to one of Bishop’s colleagues, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, at Children’s Hospital Boston. The bomb did not go off, and nobody was ever charged.
Then in 2002, Bishop was charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct after a tirade at the International House of Pancakes in Peabody, Massachusetts. Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto said that Bishop became incensed when she found out another woman had received the restaurant’s last booster seat. Bishop hit the woman while shouting, “I am Dr. Amy Bishop,” according to the police report.
Bonaiuto said Bishop admitted to the assault in court, and the case was adjudicated , meaning the charges were eventually dismissed.
Some victims’ relatives have questioned how Bishop was hired in 2003 after she was involved in previous criminal investigations. Sammie Lee Davis, Davis’ husband, said in a brief phone interview that he was told a faculty member got angry while discussing tenure at the meeting and started shooting. He said his wife had described Bishop as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”
But University President David B. Williams and others defended the decision to hire her. He said a review of her personnel file and her hiring file raised no red flags.