As the David Pitts Story Burns Out of Control…

… it’s worth asking a question often posed when a professor dangerously implodes: Why didn’t anyone who knew or worked with him say or do anything? Did someone do something? If so, why was Pitts running a high-profile program at American University up to the moment of his arrest?

As in this sad recent case at Yale, the culminating implosion in the Pitts case was indeed a culmination, and it’s hard to believe no one at AU was remotely aware that Pitts might be a danger to himself and others. (Yale had put Samuel See on unpaid leave.) As his pyromania and drug theft spree around the Washington region (he is now being investigated for the fires at the Marriott Hotel during the APSA convention, which he attended) comes to an end with his arrest, and as interviewed AU students say the obvious (they’re scared that this man was until a few days ago teaching at their school), attention inevitably turns toward American University and its policies.

It is of course possible that Pitts was able to hide from everyone on campus what looks to have been a massive drug addiction and a perilously deteriorating mental state; but assuming some people noted disturbing behavior in him, the question is: What ought they to have done? UD is fully aware that when it comes to possibly unhinged people around you – especially people in positions of authority – your response typically has everything to do with denial and with vaguely hoping that someone else will say or do something.

The most frightening recent campus case of this syndrome involved Professor Amy Bishop, the mass murderer at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Quite a few people there report having been seriously creeped out by this woman (she turned out to have another murder, plus an attempted bombing, in her past), but no one seems to have tried to have her put on leave or whatever. They did indeed deny her tenure, but she decided to kill as many colleagues as she could before leaving.

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David Pitts has been busy, in the last few days, in UD‘s neighborhoods, trying to burn down buildings full of people. If suspicions are correct, he began with a hotel building housing a large number of his fellow political scientists from all over the world. He then seems to have moved to a shopping mall steps from AU’s campus. One assumes he would eventually have gotten around to torching AU itself.

One problem with Amy Bishop having now pleaded not guilty…

… by reason of insanity is that her students reported she’d taught a class in her usual fashion – reading from the book, mainly, but nothing out of the ordinary – just before she opened fire on her colleagues.

(Click on the category of this post – Amy Bishop – for background.)

Amy Bishop…

… who murdered three of her colleagues at the University of Alabama and tried to kill three more, faces the death penalty in her upcoming trial.

Among mitigating factors [in death penalty trials] are the defendant’s lack of a significant criminal history…

Bishop will also go on trial in Massachusetts for the 1986 murder of her brother.

Better Late Than Never.

Amy Bishop [has] been charged with first-degree murder in the [1986] death of her 18-year-old brother, Seth.

Associated Press

Update, University of Alabama Huntsville

Debra Moriarity, the courageous University of Alabama Huntsville professor who confronted Amy Bishop as she tried to kill everyone in the room, will replace the murdered chair of the biology department.

Amy Bishop May Also Go To Trial…

… for the murder of her brother twenty-four years ago.

… [P]rosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury that will decide whether criminal charges should be brought in the case, according to several people involved in the probe.

The decision by Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating to take the case to a grand jury signals that a judicial inquest, which ended recently and issued a sealed report to the prosecutor, found there was enough evidence to potentially warrant charges against Bishop, now 45.

Desolation Row

UD‘s blogpal Barney sends her this moving article about the aftermath of Amy Bishop’s killing spree at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

… “There are times when you feel very, very empty,” says [Joseph] Ng, who has carried out research in structural biology in the department for 12 years.

… “The adrenaline is gone,” he says. But the sadness has moved in. “You go into the building and you are really missing these people.”

[Professor Debra] Moriarty feels much the same. “I told somebody a week ago that I felt worse than I have the whole time,” she says. She also sees similar signs in her students. “I have had a number of good students who are not doing well at all now. They come in to me and say, ‘I just can’t get my mind on it’. I send them all to counsellors.”

… Now that the initial shock has worn off, a new species of desolation has set in. The once-collegial third floor of the Shelby Center, where [a graduate student] used to enjoy hanging out, has become a lonely place that she leaves as soon as she can. “Every time you are in the building you are thinking about it,” she says. “On Fridays, when the clock strikes three or four, you are thinking about it.”…

The university news focus is now on the University of Virginia, and Yeardley Love’s killing. Perhaps the aftermath of that crime will be similar there. Weeks after the memorial events and the adrenalin, perhaps the emptiness, loneliness, and desolation of which the UAH faculty and students speak will begin to seep in — a sad, weak, distracted feeling that makes it hard to do your work.

Bishop’s Prick

Amy Bishop’s prick is her husband, of course, James Anderson, who lies and lies and lies.

He initially told investigators the family didn’t own a gun, though his wife had a borrowed one in the house.

Get rid of it,” he recalled telling her. “I didn’t want to have it. I didn’t feel we needed it.”

During Bishop’s first hearing today, a police investigator reported that

[T]he gun used in the shooting, found in a bathroom trash can on a floor below, was purchased in 1989 for [Bishop’s] husband, James Anderson, through a man in New Hampshire identified as Donald Proulx.

Gray said Proulx told federal agents Anderson, who was living in Massachusetts, asked him to buy the gun because Anderson was having problems with a neighbor and New Hampshire didn’t have a waiting period for gun purchases.

A severely unbalanced individual.

Sam Thomas, a history professor at UAH, where Amy Bishop taught (he, like a number of people on that campus, knew her to be violently unstable before she began shooting), corrects one of the several destructive misintepretations of this event:

…[B]y linking Amy Bishop’s insanity to workplace frustration, [people] are implicitly pathologizing all women. If the shooting were simply an extreme reaction to a common frustration (as opposed to the most deadly spasm of violence from a severely unbalanced individual), the logical conclusion is that all women are capable of (or even prone to) this kind of violence. Given that, why in God’s name would I ever hire so unbalanced a creature as a woman?

Encouraging news…

… about the survivors of the Huntsville shootings.

Stephanie Monticciolo, the department staff assistant, has had her condition upgraded to good.

Although Joseph Leahy, a professor, is still in critical condition, he seems to be improving.

From al.com:

… Leahy’s family has set up a blog to keep friends and family updated. He also has a head wound and had reconstructive surgery Wednesday morning to make repairs to his cheek and jaw.

In blog updates, the family has described how Leahy is able to respond to commands. Nurses have created a yes/no board. Doctors are trying to wean Leahy off the ventilator.

Leahy is a microbiologist who teaches many of the UAH nursing students, and some of his former students have been his caregivers in the intensive care unit.

Leahy’s sister posted, “At one point Joe shared with a colleague that he wanted to give all of his students the best education possible because ‘one never knows if one of your former students will some day be taking care of you.’ Eerily prescient but a grace-filled moment as well.”

Bishop Mate

[Jimmy Anderson Sr.] called his son “a very docile guy, a little too docile.’’

Yes. This rings true to my sense of him, as I follow the Amy Bishop story. While everyone describes Amy – all her life – as verbally and physically aggressive, as sure of, and loud about, her political and social views in public settings, her husband consistently emerges as her worshipful wimp, her useful tool, as Prufrock says of himself. Anderson’s an attendant lord to Amy’s archbishop.

Watch for Anderson’s father to make his implicit attacks on his son’s mad mate more explicit as time goes on; but don’t expect Bishop’s enabler – and in some cases probably her co-conspirator – to change, unless it’s in the direction of yet greater appreciation of her genius.

UD Welcomes Readers from…

Dagblog, and she thanks Dagblog for its kind words about UD‘s coverage of the Amy Bishop story.

Note that University Diaries has a category – amy bishop – which collects all of my posts about this ongoing criminal case.

Bishop: Check Mate

More and more attention gets paid to James Anderson, the bizarre, prevaricating, threatening husband of Amy Bishop.

“Bishop allegedly refused to open the door when investigators arrived with a warrant to search the couple’s Braintree home in April 1994, prompting them to break a window to enter.”

New information on the pipe bomb mailing in 1993.

Bishop must have learned from her remarkable success in the 1986 shooting that refusing cooperation with investigators is the ticket.

“Both suspects have retained an attorney and have refused to participate in further interviews, have declined to give consent to a search of an unattached garage to the rear of their house, and have refused to take a polygraph,’’ according to the documents [about Bishop and her husband].

The professor targeted, Paul Rosenberg, told police that “weeks before the attempted bombing, he played a role in Bishop’s resignation from her job as a postdoctoral research fellow in the hospital’s neurobiology lab because “he felt she could not meet the standards required for the work. …Rosenberg said Bishop’s co-workers felt she had “problems with depression,’’ that he thought “she was not stable,’’ and that there had been growing concerns because she had “exhibited violent behavior.’’

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Boston Globe

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And Washington Post.

A New UD Post about Amy Bishop…

… will shortly appear at Inside Higher Education.

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“Murder in the Cathedral” is now up at IHE.

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