Alabama Shooter’s Murky Past

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Last week University of Alabama at Huntsville professor Amy Bishop allegedly fatally shot three colleagues at a faculty meeting and wounded others. The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 13 that Bishop had fatally shot her brother 24 years ago; the resulting Massachusetts State Police investigative report classified the shooting as accidental.

“But a local police chief and the district attorney’s office gave differing accounts today [Feb 13.] of the 1986 shooting, which occurred at the siblings’ home in Braintree, raising questions about the handling of that case,” reported Eric Moskowitz, John M. Guilfoil, and Jeannie M. Nuss for The Boston Globe. They continue:

According to the current Braintree police chief, Paul H. Frazier, Amy Bishop fatally shot her 18-year-old brother, Seth, on Dec. 6, 1986, but was set free the same day by Braintree Police under orders from then-Police Chief John Polio. In news accounts at the time, Polio called the death an accident that happened when Bishop was learning how to unload a shotgun.

Frazier challenged that account today, saying instead that Bishop shot her brother during an argument and fled on foot with the 12-gauge shotgun before being captured by police, who handcuffed her and took her to the station. The case file, including the report of the incident, disappeared shortly thereafter, he said.

‘‘I don’t want to use the word ‘coverup,’’’ Frazier said. ‘‘I don’t know what the thought process was of the police chief at the time.’’

Frazier said that “based upon the recollections of an officer involved in the case,” Bishop had fought with her brother, shot him, fled with the rifle and “at one point pointing it at a car to try to get it to stop,” reported The Boston Globe. “Later, at the station, Frazier said, the booking process was abruptly stopped and the young woman released,” writes Martin Finucane for The Boston Globe on Feb. 13.

Reporters at The Boston Globe remained skeptical about the state-level investigative report. Moskowitz, Guilfoil and Nuss write that the family’s stories “contained some discrepancies.”

New York Times writers Shaila Dewan and Katie Zezima reported on February 14 that the police might reopen this case.

“On Saturday, the police in Braintree said that they were considering reopening the case of the shooting death of her brother, Seth Bishop, 18. … On Sunday, Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan of Braintree, a Boston suburb, issued a statement saying the town would conduct a ‘full and thorough review’ of its records for any material relating to Seth Bishop’s death. But he noted that records from 1986 were created and maintained manually, which would complicate their retrieval.”

Read Mayor Sullivan’s statement here.

Yesterday, Feb. 15, a “former auto-body worker claims Amy Bishop put a gun to his chest and demanded a getaway car just minutes after she shot her brother to death 24 years ago…” report Jessica Van Sack, Jessica Fargen and Edward Mason for The Boston Herald.

Tom Pettigrew, 45, told the Herald he was working at the Dave Dinger Ford auto repair shop in South Braintree, near the former Bishop home, when he saw the gun-wielding woman run into the dealership with what he thought was a BB gun.

Pettigrew, of Quincy, who was 22 at the time, recalled telling his co-oworkers: “I’m like, ‘Did I just see what I just saw?’ ”

Pettigrew said he heard noise coming from where car keys are stored, so he went to investigate.

“I go over to the door and I can sense that she’s right near the door,” Pettigrew said. “I’m thinking it’s a BB gun. I open the door and she’s right there and we basically bumped into each other and I got a shotgun right in my chest!”

“And she’s like, ‘Hands up!’ and I’m like, ‘Yes ma’am’” [sic]

Bishop appeared agitated and nervous, Pettigrew said. The University of Alabama professor now accused of killing three colleagues Friday said she needed a car because, “I got into a fight with my husband and he’s going to kill me,” the worker recalled.

Pettigrew then watched as Bishop walked through the dealership looking at cars, all the while grasping the gun.

By then, police arrived and swarmed the parking lot. One armed officer climbed up on a nearby roof, Pettigrew said, and could have taken her out.

Instead, they arrested her. Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier has said officers on duty claim they were forced by retired former Chief John Polio to let Bishop, whose mother was a member of the police personnel board, go. Polio denies that and said then-District Attorney William Delahunt investigated the case and ruled it an accident.

Pettigrew said police questioned him after the incident but he never heard from them again. …

The Boston Globe also reports that Bishop was investigated for a 1993 incident involving bombs mailed to Harvard Professor Paul Rosenberg. “A law enforcement official said yesterday that the investigation by the US Postal Service, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Newton police had focused on Bishop,” report Shelly Murphy, Donovan Slack, and Meghan Irons for The Boston Globe on Feb. 15.

“The law enforcement official said federal prosecutors concluded the evidence was circumstantial and not sufficient to warrant charges,” they write.

Bishop’s husband, James Anderson, claimed they had received a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms clearing them of the incident, according to the New York Times article.

Update: Professor Debra M. Moriarity’s first-hand account of the shooting, via the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.