More than 23 years before a college professor was accused of shooting six colleagues, her teenage brother died from the blast of a shotgun she held.
The 1986 shooting was ruled accidental and no charges were filed against Amy Bishop. The case could get a closer look as authorities try to explain why they believe the Harvard-educated neurobiologist opened fire Friday, killing three.
Bishop, a rare woman suspected of a workplace shooting, had just months left teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville because she was denied tenure.
Some said she was upset after being denied the job-for-life security of tenured academics. Authorities have refused to discuss a motive.
The three killed were Gopi K. Podila, the Department of Biological Sciences chairman; and faculty members Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson. Three others were wounded. Two of them — Joseph Leahy and Stephanie Monticciolo — were in critical condition early Sunday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, had been released from the hospital.
Bishop was arrested shortly after the shooting and was charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty if she is convicted. It wasn’t immediately known if she has an attorney. No one was home at Bishop’s house. Her husband, James Anderson, was detained and questioned by police but has not been charged. Bishop is the mother of four children.
A 9-mm handgun was found in the bathroom of the building where the shootings occurred, and Huntsville police spokesman Sgt. Mark Roberts said Bishop did not have a permit for it.
William Setzer, chairman of the UAH chemistry department, said Bishop was appealing the tenure decision made last year.
“Politics and personalities” always play a role in the tenure process, he said. “In a close department it’s more so. If you have any lone wolves or bizarre personalities it’s a problem, and I’m thinking that certainly came into play here.”
Bishop shot her brother, Seth, 18, in the chest, said Paul Frazier, the police chief in Braintree, Mass., where the shooting occurred.
The Norfolk County District Attorney’s office released a 1987 report with details of its investigation, based on interviews with Amy Bishop and her parents conducted by a state trooper. It concluded Seth Bishop was killed by an “accidental discharge of a firearm.”
Amy Bishop told investigators she was trying to learn how to use a shotgun her father had purchased for protection in the home after a break-in. She said she did not know how to use the weapon and brought it to the kitchen for help unloading it.
She said she was raising 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.
She then ran out of the house with the weapon. When she talked to investigators 11 days after the shooting, she told them she could only remember hearing her mother scream and she didn’t know the gunshot struck her brother until later.
Trooper Brian Howe’s report said Bishop’s “highly emotional state” after the shooting made it impossible to question her and that she was 19 at the time.
Frazier said former chief John Polio instructed officers to release Amy Bishop to her mother, who had once served on a police personnel board. That move was not popular with officers who remembered the 1986 shooting, 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.
Frazier said the police records of the shooting have disappeared and 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, now 87, said Saturday that he was astonished at any implication of a cover-up. 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.
Polio said at the time there were questions about whether 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.