Three members of the university’s biology department lay dead, and three others were wounded, two critically. And if somebody didn’t do something, the remaining five members of the department would soon join them.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this has to stop!’ ” Debra Moriarity told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Moriarity, a professor of biochemistry and dean of the graduate school at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said that the 12 members of the department had been sitting in a conference room for about a half hour last Friday when Dr. Amy Bishop, 44, took out a 9 mm handgun and began shooting her colleagues, aiming for their heads.
Until then, “It was just a regular, pretty mundane meeting,” said Moriarity, who heard the gunshots before she saw the gun.
“A bang, a gunshot. I 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.’ When I saw what was happening, it looked like she was just methodically going around the room,” Moriarity told NBC News in a report that aired Wednesday on TODAY.
‘Amy, don’t do this’
The Harvard-educated Bishop had been denied tenure at the university last year, and, according to published reports, felt her career was over.
“Every time she saw me she brought it up,” Moriarity said. “I know she made a comment to me that she felt that her career was ended.”
At the time of the shooting, no one knew that 24 years earlier, Bishop had shot and killed her brother with a shotgun. The shooting had been ruled accidental, but the investigation has been reopened.
Last Friday, when Bishop paused in her bloody work, Moriarity tried to talk her out of completing her self-appointed mission.
“I started yelling at her, ‘Amy, don’t do this. Think about my grandson, think about my daughter. Amy don’t do this, don’t do this,’ ” Moriarity recalled.
Moriarity and her surviving colleagues dove under the conference table for cover. But Moriarity didn’t cower.
“I got down and crawled across under the table to where Amy was. I grabbed at her leg. She shook her leg free from me,” Moriarity said.
Moriarity made it to an open door and got up. Bishop pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger. Click.
“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,” Moriarity said, her voice soft, her demeanor calm.
Joseph Ng, an associate professor, credited Moriarity’s courage and decisive action with preventing further deaths.
“Moriarity was probably the one that saved our lives. She was the one that initiated the rush,” Ng said. “It took a lot of guts to just go up to her.”
Moriarity told NBC News her emotion at the time was closer to rage than courage.
“I’m very angry, very angry at her,” Moriarity said. “How dare she? How dare she do this?”
Remembering the dead
The dead have been identified as Gopi K. Podila, chairman of the department of biological sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis. Two wounded remain in the hospital: Prof. James Leahy, in critical condition, and staff member Stephanie Monticciolo, in serious condition. A third wounded faculty member, Luis Cruz-Vera, has been released from the hospital.
“Gopi had a great sense of humor; a very giving, caring, nice person,” she said of Podila.
“Adriel Johnson. He cared so much that his students and the students he worked with do well,” she continued before characterizing Davis: “Sweet is what I can tell you about Maria. Sweet. Never said bad things or mean things about anyone.”
Moriarity had been back to the school, but not back to the biology department since the shootings.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like going back there, none of us can,” she said. “It’s going to be awful without them.”
A Massachusetts prosecutor said Tuesday that a review of files suggests Bishop should have been charged with a crime in the 1986 shooting death of her brother. Bishop also had a run-in with police in 2002 after an altercation at a Massachusetts restaurant. She was charged with assault in that case, according to police reports.
On Dec. 6, 1986, Bishop, then 20, shot and killed her 18-year-old brother with a shotgun at their Braintree, Mass., home. She told police at the time that she had been trying to learn how to use the gun, which her father had bought for protection, when it accidentally discharged.
The death of Seth Bishop, a Northeastern University freshman and a virtuoso violinist, was declared accidental and Amy Bishop was never charged with a crime.
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. The files were previously thought to have been missing but were discovered over the weekend.
However, Keating said, the statute of limitations has run out on any possible charges.
In 2002, Bishop was charged with assault after allegedly punching a woman in a dispute over a booster seat at an International House of Pancakes in Peabody.
After the 1986 shooting, Amy Bishop told police she thought she had ruined the kitchen, but did not realize she had hit her brother. She said she ran away and thought she dropped the gun, which went off a third time. She did not remember anything else until she was taken to a police station. Video: Accused campus shooter killed brother in 1986
But police and witnesses say she fled with the gun to a car dealership, where she pointed it at employees and demanded a getaway car.
Police said it took 11 days before they could interview family members because they were so distraught. When they finally did, authorities decided to let her go, declaring the whole thing an accident.
John Polio, who headed the Braintree police force at the time, over the weekend defended the handling of the case. The 87-year-old said Tuesday that he recently read a 1987 report on the investigation written by a state trooper. At the time, he had not seen the document. But now, he says, “I would have wanted a lot more questions answered.”
Amy Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, graduated from Northeastern in 1988 with biology degrees. In 1993, Bishop earned a doctorate in genetics from Harvard.
That same year, she and her husband were questioned in another unsettling episode: Two mail bombs were sent to a Harvard professor she worked with at Children’s Hospital Boston. The explosives did not go off.
Anderson told The Associated Press he and his wife were among a number of innocent people questioned by investigators who cast a wide net. He said the case “had a dozen people swept up in this, and everybody was a subject, not a suspect.
“There was never any indictment, arrest, nothing, and then everyone was cleared after five years,” he said.
Anderson also said his wife had been writing a novel at the time that was reviewed by law enforcement. The Boston Globe, citing a law enforcement source it did not identify, reported that it was about a woman who had killed her brother and was hoping to make amends by becoming a great scientist.
In 2003, Bishop and Anderson moved to Huntsville, where they were raising their four children. Bishop appeared to be a rising star at the university — she developed a new type of portable cell incubator and won $25,000 in a statewide business competition in 2007. But she was denied tenure by the university, and she was vocal among colleagues about her displeasure over being forced to look for work elsewhere after this semester.
Bishop also filed a complaint last year alleging gender discrimination by the university. The university denied the allegations, which are in a complaint pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint itself, filed Sept. 15, was not immediately available.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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