Image: Amy Bishop
Dave Dieter  /  Huntsville Times via AP
Amy Bishop is taken into custody by Huntsville, Ala., police Friday in connection with three fatal shootings on the University of Alabama in Huntsville campus.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/17/2010 1:43:04 PM ET 2010-02-17T18:43:04

Students said they signed a petition and complained to no avail about the classroom conduct of a University of Alabama-Huntsville professor accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others in a shooting rampage at a faculty meeting.

The students upset with biology professor Amy Bishop told The Associated Press they went to university administrators at least three times a year ago, complaining that she was ineffective in the classroom and had odd, unsettling ways.

The students said Bishop never made eye contact during conversations, taught by reading out of a textbook and made frequent references to Harvard University, her alma mater.

"We could tell something was off, that she was not like other teachers," said nursing student Caitlin Phillips.

Still, they said, they saw no sign she might turn violent.

Bishop is charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in the shootings Friday in a campus conference room where members of the biology department were meeting.

She is being held without bond and does not yet have an attorney. Police have not revealed a motive, but colleagues say she was vocal in her displeasure about being denied tenure in March of last year. Her appeal was denied in November.

Past run-ins with police
There have been revelations since the shooting that she killed her brother with a shotgun in Braintree, Mass., in 1986 but was never charged because police said at the time it was an accident.

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating on Tuesday said that he reviewed the case files and concluded that probable cause existed in 1986 to charge Bishop with assault and weapons crimes. However, Keating said, the statute of limitations has run out on any possible charges.

Bishop and her husband were also scrutinized in 1993 after someone sent pipe bombs to a Harvard professor she worked with. The bombs did not go off and no one was ever charged in that case either.

In 2002, Bishop was charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct after a tirade at the International House of Pancakes in Peabody, Mass. Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto said 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.

Image: Amy Bishop
AP
Students and victims' relatives want to know how Amy Bishop, with such a tortured past, could ever have been hired at a state university.
"The whole incident was just stupid," Bishop's husband, James Anderson, said Wednesday.

Asked if he was referring to his wife's actions, he said: "Everything."

"It was way overblown," he said. "Someone trying to make something out of nothing."

He also defended his wife's teaching, saying the "vast majority" of students were happy with her. He said his wife taught the "cut course" for nursing students, who would either go on toward a degree or quit the program based on how they did in her class.

"If they didn't make it through, they didn't make it," he said. "So it's natural for some to be unhappy."

He said classroom performance was not an issue in her tenure file, which has not been made public.

Tenured denied
Bishop's students said they first wrote a letter to biology department chairman Gopi K. Podila — one of the victims of Friday's shooting — then met with him and finally submitted a petition that dozens of them had signed.

"Podila just sort of blew us off," said Phillips, who was among a group of five students who met with him in fall 2008 or early 2009 to air their concerns.

After students met privately with Podila, Phillips said, Bishop seemingly made a point in class to use some of the same phrases they had so they would know she knew about it.

"It was like she was parroting what we had said," Phillips said.

University President David B. Williams said Tuesday that student evaluations were one of many factors in the tenure evaluation process, but he was unaware of any student petition against Bishop.

Other tenured professors in the department made the decision not to grant her tenure, a type of job security given to academics, but the votes of the committee were not made public. Podila was supportive of her, Williams noted.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Survivor recalls faculty shooting

  1. Closed captioning of: Survivor recalls faculty shooting

    >> games in a moment, but now to a firsthand account of last week's deadly shooting at the university of alabama in huntsville from one of the survivors. three faculty members were killed, three others injured. nbc's tom truong has the latest.

    >> reporter: matt, good morning. the accused shooter, amy bishop, is in jail facing capital murder charges. one survivor says bishop struck without warning.

    >> i just don't understand how amy could do this. i don't -- i just don't understand.

    >> reporter: debra moriarity is 1 of 12 professors who attended the fateful faculty meeting on friday.

    >> it was just a regular, pretty mundane meeting.

    >> reporter: about 30 minutes later, everything changed.

    >> a bang, a gunshot, and looked up and amy was standing there with a gun and shooting. my thought was she is going to go around the room and shoot everyone. i mean, when i saw what was happening, it looked like she was just methotically going around the room.

    >> reporter: moriarity says she pleaded with the alleged shooter, amy bishop.

    >> i started yelling at her, you know, to, " amy , don't do this," i yelled "think about my grandson, think about my daughter, don't do this, don't do this."

    >> reporter: moriarity then ducked under a table.

    >> i got down and crawled across under a table to where amy was. i grabbed at her leg and she kind of shook her leg free from me.

    >> reporter: she eventually crawled to an open door and says bishop followed her out of the room and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn't go off.

    >> she pulled the trigger again. it clicked again. the gun didn't fire. had the gun fired, i'd be one of the casualties, too.

    >> reporter: moriarity then ran back into the conference room and the survivors barricaded the door. minutes later, authorities arrested bishop. the shooter killed three and wounded three others. moriarity says there's a lot of pain and frustration.

    >> yeah, i'm angry with her. i'm very angry with her. how dare she? how dare she do this?

    >> reporter: the motive for the shootings is unclear, but bishop was denied a tenured position with the school. moriarity says it was all bishop talked about in the last few months.

    >> every time she saw me, she brought it up. i know she made the comment to me that she felt that her career was ended.

    >> reporter: what began as a routine meeting ended with the loss of three lives, three colleagues moriarity will never forget.

    >> he had a great sense of humor, very giving, caring, nice person. johnson, he cared so much that his students and the students he worked with do well. maria, sweet is what i can tell you about maria, sweet. never said bad things or mean things about anyone. it's awful. i can't imagine what it's going to be like going back there, and none of us can, but it's going to be awful without them.

    >> reporter: in 1986 , bishop shot and killed her younger brother . at the time, it was ruled an accidental shooting, but in light of the events here, authorities are questioning whether that was the right call. matt?

    >> tom, thank you very much. it's a terrible story. and

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