On February 12, 2010, Amy Bishop, age 45, a neurobiology professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, shot and wounded three colleagues during a faculty meeting. Apparently Bishop was distraught because she had been informed she would not be granted tenure. Bishop was charged with capital murder and is currently awaiting trial. If convicted, she faces the death penalty.
A promising neurobiologist, Bishop had been awarded grants for her work and was a key player in a biotechnology start-up company. She had helped develop a new approach to treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and a company was in the process of licensing her work for development. She and her husband, a computer engineer with a biology degree, had invented an automated system for incubating cells. Their system was considered to be a vast improvement over the Petri dish. Bishop is also the mother of four children.
In retrospect, Bishop’s past suggests that she was troubled despite her many noteworthy accomplishments. Twenty-four years prior to the Alabama incident, Bishop shot and fatally wounded her brother, Seth Bishop, in their home in Braintree, Massachusetts. She was never charged in his death. Interestingly, the police report from the incident had been missing since 1988; after the 2010 shooting, the report was released. In it, Amy Bishop claimed she had been teaching herself to use the family’s shotgun after their home had been invaded. She said that she loaded the weapon but was unable to unload it, so she asked her brother for his help. The gun accidentally went off, killing her brother. Bishop said her mother, Judith Bishop, was present during the accident. Judith Bishop confirmed her daughter’s account of the event, according to the report.
In 2010, in the wake of the Alabama shootings, Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier expressed skepticism about Bishop’s earlier story, stating that the officer on duty, Ronald Solimini, remembered that Bishop had shot and killed her brother after an argument. She allegedly fired another round from the shotgun into the ceiling as she left the home, with the shotgun in tow. According to Officer Solimini, Bishop also pointed the shotgun at a vehicle in an attempt to get the driver to stop. Another officer, Timothy Murphy, seized the shotgun, and Bishop was arrested and taken to the police station. The booking officer at the time recalls getting a phone call, either from then Police Chief John Polio or from someone on his behalf, asking him to stop the booking. Bishop was then released. Polio, now 87, denied any impropriety.
Seven years later, Bishop was the prime suspect in a 1993 mail bombing attempt involving a Harvard Medical School professor. She was never charged due to a lack of evidence, but colleagues claimed that her motive was similar to the one cited in the 2010 incident–Bishop had received a negative evaluation from the targeted professor. A former coworker at the research lab recalled that Bishop and the professor had a disagreement. She remembers that Bishop was smiling when she described the police questioning she underwent following the discovery of the bomb. Investigators said that they found a novel on her computer that described a scientist who had shot her brother and then sought redemption.
On the day of her 2010 attack, Bishop taught her regular schedule of neuroscience and anatomy courses. She then headed to the third floor of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology for the faculty meeting. She sat quietly for 30 to 40 minutes, then pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun and began shooting. Either the gun jammed or she ran out of ammunition, prompting Bishop to flee the room, dumping her gun in a second-floor bathroom as she exited the center. Moments later, she was arrested outside the building.
The deceased included G. K. Podila, the department’s chairman; Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel D. Johnson Sr.–all biology professors. Two other biology professors, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera and Joseph G. Leahy, as well as a professor’s assistant, Stephanie Monticciolo, were injured.
In general, Bishop’s colleagues were said to have respected her ability but found her hard to get along with. She had become convinced that the chemical engineering professors were trying to keep biology students from succeeding by making the classes too difficult, and this belief became an obsession. She was considered to be very outspoken, so the fact that she went on a shooting rampage shocked many, who thought she was not the type to bottle up her pain.
Some students also had problems with Bishop’s teaching style. They said she simply read from the textbook in class but then tested them on material that she had not covered. Nursing students repeatedly complained about Bishop’s teaching methods to Dr. Podila, the department chairman, as well as to the dean. Some even signed a petition to have her removed. At the same time, Bishop was recognized as an advocate for students. She was vocally opposed to a new policy that would require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus, stating that this requirement was too expensive and would affect diversity. The policy was enacted despite her, and others’, opposition.
Bishop’s husband, James Anderson, has continually expressed his love and support for his wife, although he insists he had no idea what prompted her attack. He did admit the two had visited a shooting range just two weeks before the incident, but stated the family did not own a gun and that he had no idea where she obtained the weapon she used in the attack. Anderson also said that his wife had been fighting the university for more than a year about her tenure status.
- Canning, A., McPhee, M., Netter, S., & James, S. (2010, February 15). Alabama shooting suspect’s husband: “I’m no psychologist.” ABC News. Retrieved 2010, from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/alabama-university-shooting-suspect-amy-bishops-husband-idea/story?id=9839348&page=1
- Dewan, S., & Robbins, L. (2010, February 13). A previous death at the hand of Alabama suspect. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/14alabama.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
- Sweet, L., Van Sack, J., Fargen, J., & Kantor, I. (2010, February 15). “Oddball” portrait of Amy Bishop emerges. Boston Herald. Retrieved from http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2010/02/%E2%80%98oddball%E2%80%99_portrait_amy_bishop_emerges