Students and staff at the University of Alabama's Huntsville campus gathered to comfort each other after news that authorities had charged a faculty member with gunning down colleagues in a staff meeting.
Biology professor Amy Bishop was charged Friday night with one count of capital murder, which means she could face the death penalty if convicted. Authorities say Bishop opened fire during an afternoon faculty meeting, killing three fellow biology professors and injuring three other school employees.
Biology major Julia Hollis was among the students who gathered to support each other and try to make sense of the news.
"When someone told me it was a staff person and it was faculty I was in complete denial," said Hollis, 23, who had taken classes with two of the instructors who were killed. "It took me a bit for it to sink in."
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."
No students were harmed in the shooting, which happened in a community known for its space and technology industries.
Bishop, a neurobiologist who studied at Harvard University, joined the UAH biology faculty as an assistant professor in 2003. She was taken Friday night in handcuffs from a police precinct to the county jail and could be heard saying, "It didn't happen. There's no way. ... They are still alive."
Police said they were also interviewing a man as "a person of interest."
University spokesman Ray Garner said the three killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and two other faculty members, Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson.
Three others were wounded, two critically, in the gunfire, which Davis' husband, Sammie Lee Davis, said occurred at a meeting over a tenure issue. The injured were identified as department members Luis Cruz-Vera, who was listed in fair condition, and Joseph Leahy, in critical condition in intensive care, and staffer Stephanie Monticello, also in critical condition in intensive care.
Sammie Lee Davis said his wife was a researcher who had tenure at the university.
In a brief phone interview, he 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. He said his wife had mentioned the suspect before, describing the woman as "not being able to deal with reality" and "not as good as she thought she was."
Bishop, 42, and her husband placed third in a statewide university business plan competition in July 2007, presenting a portable cell incubator they had invented. They won $25,000 to help start a company to market the device.
Students offered varying assessments of Bishop.
Andrea Bennett, a sophomore majoring in nursing, 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."
Bennett, an athlete at UAH, said her coach told her team Bishop had been denied tenure and that may have led to the shooting.
Amanda Tucker, a junior nursing major, had Bishop for anatomy class about a year ago. Tucker said a group of students complained to a dean about Bishop's performance in the classroom.
"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," said Tucker.
But Nick Lawton, 25, described Bishop as funny and accommodating with students.
"She lectured from the textbook, mostly stuck to the subject matter at hand," Nick Lawton said. "She seemed like a nice enough professor." There was still a heavy police presence on campus Friday night, with police tape cordoning off the main entrance to the university.
The Huntsville campus has about 7,500 students in northern Alabama, not far from the Tennessee line. The university is known for its scientific and engineering programs and often works closely with NASA.
Mass shootings are rarely carried out by women, said Dr. Park Dietz, who is president of Threat Assessment Group Inc., a violence prevention firm.
A notable exception was a 1985 rampage at a Springfield, Pennsylvania, mall in which three people were killed. In June 1986, Sylvia Seegrist was deemed guilty but mentally ill on three counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder in the shooting spree.
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