2/16/2010 Ala. prof went to range before shooting (Associated Press)
February 17, 2010
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Disclosures that an Alabama professor accused of fatally shooting three colleagues was twice questioned by criminal investigators years ago raised concerns Monday of why background checks didn’t prevent her hiring at the school in 2003.
University of Alabama in Huntsville officials were meeting privately to review the files concerning Amy Bishop, a Harvard-educated neurobiologist accused of pulling a gun at a Friday faculty meeting and shooting six people, three fatally. Two of the survivors remained in critical condition Monday.
Some victims’ relatives questioned why UAH hired her in the first place after the disclosures about her involvement in the two criminal probes. She wasn’t charged with a crime in either.
An expert on background checks who’s not involved in the case says the lack of charges made it less likely either case would have shown up when prospective employers looked into her past.
Professors who witnessed the shooting said Bishop had been “unusually quiet” during the meeting before pulling out a gun and firing, said professor Leland Cseke (CHEK’-ee). He joined them and other biology department colleagues at a gathering Sunday to mourn the dead and wounded.
While investigators have not commented on a motive, family members of victims said they understood Bishop was angry about the university’s decision to deny her tenure, forcing her to look for work elsewhere after this semester.
In a case that Huntsville colleagues weren’t aware of, Bishop in 1986 shot and killed her 18-year-old brother with a shotgun at their Braintree, Mass., home. She told police she had been trying to learn how to use the gun, which her father had bought for protection, when it accidentally discharged.
Authorities termed the episode an accident and released her, but current Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier has questioned how the investigation was handled.
On Sunday The Boston Globe reported that Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, were questioned by investigators after a package containing two pipe bombs was sent to one of Bishop’s colleagues, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, at Children’s Hospital Boston in 1993. Police were alerted and the bomb did not go off. No one was charged.
Huntsville police spokesman Sgt. Mark Roberts said both cases were news to them.
“We found out about both events after the fact,” he told The Associated Press.
He said police were checking with law enforcement to confirm details of the pipe bomb probe.
Bishop’s father-in-law, Jim Anderson, told The Associated Press that his son and daughter-in-law “were cleared when the evidence proved they had nothing to do with it.”
He said ATF conducted the investigation. “They focused on the wrong persons and let the bad guy(s) flee,” he said in an e-mail.
Sylvia Fluckiger, a lab technician who worked with Bishop at the time, said Bishop had been in a dispute with Rosenberg shortly before the bombs were discovered, though she didn’t know the nature of the disagreement.
“It was common knowledge,” she told the AP Sunday.
It was not clear Monday if UAH spoke with Rosenberg when it hired Bishop, an associate professor whose research led to an innovative cell incubator now being developed for market by a private company, Prodigy Biosystems, that employs her husband.
Sammie Lee Davis, whose wife, Maria Ragland Davis, was killed in the shooting, expressed concern that UAH hired someone with a past like Bishop’s.
“This is all new to us,” he said of her past.
The slain professor’s two stepdaughters said they were shocked that Bishop was hired.
“I think they need to do a little more investigation when coming down to hiring teachers and things like that. Maybe looking a little deeper into their past about certain things. This is a lot coming out … It’s a shocker,” said Melissa Davis on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Jason Morris, president of EmployeeScreenIQ, a Cleveland, Ohio, company that does background checks for colleges and other large institutions, said it’s possible a background check would not have turned up the incidents in Bishop’s past, particularly since she wasn’t charged.
Part of the problem is that college professors often come to campus with very lofty credentials, like Bishop’s degree from Harvard University, Morris said.
“Sometimes they overlook certain characteristics because they’ve got this great person coming to campus,” Morris said.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” he said of background checks, but a check of weapons records “might have uncovered something.”
Police previously said Bishop had no permit for the gun believe used in the shooting, and investigators said they didn’t know where she got it. The gun was found in a second-floor restroom, one floor below where the shooting occurred.