sponsored by

Shooting cripples Ala. university department

Send a link to a friend

[March 19, 2010]  HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) -- A professor who police say was injured by a bullet fired by his colleague remains in a neuro-intensive care unit, but microbiologist Joseph Leahy is making progress and his fight to recover mirrors the challenge facing the biology department that saw three of its members snatched away in one afternoon.

Caption: Faculty member Joseph Leahy  is shown in this undated photo released Monday by the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Leahy was wounded during a shooting at a university faculty meeting Feb. 12. (AP Photo/University of Alabama-Huntsville)

A conference room at the University of Alabama-Huntsville was the scene of a mass shooting six days ago that claimed the lives of the department head and two other professors.

Leahy, another professor and a staff member were wounded when, authorities allege, Amy Bishop pulled a pistol at a faculty meeting and started shooting her colleagues.

With three professors dead, two wounded and one charged with murder, "our department has pretty much been cut in half," said Leland Cseke, a faculty member. "It's devastating."


And the other half of the 14-member department is traumatized; most of them witnessed the attack up close.

Remaining department members have been meeting in small groups, said one of them, John Shriver. They're trying to help each other cope with the loss of Maria Ragland Davis, Gopi Podila and Adriel Johnson, all 52 and holding doctorates in the field.

Staff assistant Stephanie Monticciolo was hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday. Another faculty member, Luis Cruz-Vera, was shot in the chest and has been released.

The decimated department takes an early step in its recovery Thursday as the family of Podila, the biology chairman who was born in India, holds a public visitation and a smaller, Hindu funeral. Services for Johnson and Davis are to follow Friday and Saturday, and the school plans a midday service for all the victims Friday.

Bishop, an assistant professor, is accused of shooting all six in a small conference room. The Harvard-trained researcher and inventor was in her final year of teaching at the school after being denied tenure last April, but the motive for the shooting remains unclear. Podila had supported her tenure application.

Bishop, 44, remains jailed on one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in the shootings.

At a school respected for its academics, and a department recognized for its work in a city of NASA engineers and other high-tech industries, the shooting left students without teachers and administrators trying to regroup amid the mourning.

It was a blow to a university that proudly notes its ranking by U.S. News & World Report among the 150 best national doctoral universities in the U.S. The biology department is particularly well-regarded for its achievements in biotechnology, UAH spokesman Ray Garner said.

"These guys are doing some really good work," he said.

Professor Joseph Ng recalled Davis as a "fantastic teacher."

"The students admired her for her teaching, her mentoring," he said. Ng said she had a background in industry that set her apart from other faculty members who had more academic backgrounds.

"The students just loved her. She always had a very nice demeanor, and she was always there for the students."

[to top of second column]

Podila was chair of the biological sciences department at UAH, where he began working in 2001 and did research involving plant biology and work that can be used in the development of biofuels.

Shriver said he was admired for his ability to not only run the department and "keep everybody happy" but also to continue doing important research, travel overseas on behalf of the department and still teach.

Johnson was known for his sense of humor and students "flocked to him" because of his willingness to open up to them, said Florence Holland, an administrator at Auburn University who knew and worked with him.

A mentor for minority students, Johnson started at UAH in 1989 and was also involved with the school's Minority Graduate Student Association.

"He was always trying to encourage underrepresented groups to go into math and science and engineering," Holland said. "Some people, when they get to a certain level of success are like 'I have mine, you get yours,' but Dr. Johnson wasn't like that. He was very willing to work with students and just overall passionate about that."

UAH President David B. Williams said for now the school is concentrating on grieving for the slain teachers. Work will begin soon to rebuild the department, he said, and several colleges in the state have offered teachers to help fill the gap in the meantime.

"The overwhelming response has just been enormous," Williams said.

Leahy already has shown signs of progress at Huntsville Hospital, according to a blog his family has been writing.

"Joe has been showing the most body movement/activity since the shooting, particularly on the left side," a Wednesday afternoon posting read. "Neurosurgeon used term 'purposeful' in describing the movements."

[Associated Press; By DESIREE HUNTER]

Associated Press writers Jay Reeves and Greg Bluestein in Huntsville contributed to this report.

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

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor