Tragedy rocked the University of Alabama campus in Huntsville Feb. 12 when a female biology professor allegedly gunned down six colleagues, three of them fatally, in an apparent dispute over tenure.
After the initial shock, higher-education officials from across the nation are reviewing the details to see if there is anything they can learn from the latest deadly campus shooting.
Amy Bishop, 42, a Harvard-educated neurobiologist who became an assistant professor at the school in 2003, has been charged with capital murder—a rare instance of a woman being accused in a mass shooting. Bishop, known as a bright woman who some students said struggled to explain complicated topics, is also a mother of four children.
She was taken Friday night in handcuffs to the county jail, and she reportedly said as she got into a police car: “It didn’t happen. There’s no way. … They are still alive.”
Students’ assessments of Bishop varied. Some recalled an attentive, friendly teacher, while others said she was an odd woman who couldn’t simplify difficult subjects for students. Sammie Lee Davis, the husband of a tenured researcher who was killed, said his wife had described Bishop as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was.”
Davis said his wife was a tenured researcher at the university. In a brief phone interview with the Associated Press, Davis 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.
Davis’ wife, Maria Ragland Davis, was among those killed, along with Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the biological sciences department, and Adriel Johnson.
Bishop had created a portable cell incubator, known as InQ, that was less expensive than its larger counterparts. She and her husband had won $25,000 in 2007 to market the device.
Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing and an athlete at UAH, said a coach told her team that Bishop had been denied tenure, which the coach said might have led to the shooting.
Bennett 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.”
Amanda Tucker, a junior nursing major from Alabaster, Ala., had Bishop for anatomy class about a year ago. Tucker said a group of students complained to a dean about Bishop’s classroom performance.
“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,” Tucker said.
However, UAH student Andrew Cole was in Bishop’s anatomy class Friday morning and said she seemed perfectly normal.
“She’s understanding, and was concerned about students,” he said. “I would have never thought it was her.”
Nick Lawton, 25, described Bishop as funny and accommodating with students.
“She seemed like a nice enough professor,” Lawton said.