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Feb. 15 2010 - 2:57 pm | 2,378 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

Amy Bishop, Harvard Phd, U. Of Alabama Professor — Shooter. Really, So Unlikely?

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If there’s anything to remember about who owns guns in the U.S., it’s often the people who would most surprise you: the beauty queen, the  schoolteacher, the nurse, the little old lady down the street.

As the weirdly twisted tale of Amy Bishop continues to unfold, part of the narrative some clearly find perplexing is her age, gender, professional status and education. Women like her don’t kill, don’t own or carry handguns.

Do they?

Reports today’s New York Times:

On Friday, this city of rocket scientists and brainy inventors was stunned when a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D. was arrested in the shooting deaths of three of her colleagues after she was denied tenure.

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But that was only the first surprise in the tale of the neuroscientist, Amy Bishop, who was regarded as fiercely intelligent and had seemed to have a promising career in biotechnology. Every day since has produced a new revelation from Dr. Bishop’s past, each more bizarre than the last.

On Saturday, the police in Braintree, Mass., said that she had fatally shot her brother in 1986 and questioned whether the decision to dismiss the case as an accident had been the right one.

On Sunday, a law enforcement official in Boston said she and her husband, James Anderson, had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Dr. Bishop’s at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The bomb did not go off, no one was ever charged in the case, and no proof ever emerged connecting the couple to the bomb plot.

You can feel the crimson robes shuddering — a Harvard woman? Another Harvard-educated woman, lawyer Sandra Froman, served as the National Rifle Association’s president — an unpaid position — for two terms, the maximum allowed.

It’s often assumed that anyone with the smarts and skills to crack the Ivy League has no interest in the workings of a rifle, pistol or shotgun. Not true. Guns, often linked only and exclusively with murder and mayhem, are found in 30 percent of American homes. Thousands are fired every day in the U.S. by recreational shooters, hunters, target shooters, even kids and teens in 4-H programs, without incident or malice.

Yet the fantasy persists that only Bubbas want to use or own one. An Ivy-educated woman, a professor, a mother of four, shoots and kills? It’s rare. It’s scary. It’s especially confusing if you still believe that smart, highly educated professional women don’t handle firearms, some of them with skill.

As more details emerge about Bishop and her past, I’ll be curious to hear when, how and where a handgun started to look like her best and only option.


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  1. collapse expand

    Oh my. I just read the other articles on this and am very saddened to hear about it.

    Between murder and suicide the number of killings that make the news just keeps growing. It almost makes a person afraid to think about the number that don’t make it to the news.

    My thoughts and prayers will be with everyone involved.

  2. collapse expand

    Dont know about handguns, but shotguns were apparently her best option 20 years ago when she killed her brother. And mail bombs were her best option sometime after that. Why is it that there has to be some greater purpose of all of this? It was not tenure. It was not gun proliferation. It was not anything more than a crazy, crazy woman. Seriously.

    Every time that more information comes out, people learn how crazy she was. Every time that some pundit proposes a theory, it is quickly shot down. This woman was deeply, deeply disturbed. A lot of good people paid the price for that. End of story.

  3. collapse expand

    I don’t think the “surprise” in this is that a woman, or any woman, owns and knows how to use a gun. The awful surprise is that a woman committed a multiple-homicide shooting in the workplace, an act statistically attributable to male perpetrators usually. There’s no comparison to women who legally own and operate their firearms.

  4. collapse expand

    The reason, Craig, that there has to be a deeper purpose to all of this -is- the fact that she was deeply disturbed. Your attitude is exactly why much of the time people do not want to try to understand the “why”. Certainly in some cases the “why” cannot be found, but it just might be in this case.

    It may not seem important to you, but the families of the victims might find some closure in knowing why she did what she did even if their hatred and hurt for and from her are not diminished. Her husband might get some closure as well if he really does not have a clue as to why she did it. Her children. The rest of her community and society in general.

    It’s not as cut and dry as you seem to think it is which is why people like Caitlin speculate on it publicly for us.

    • collapse expand

      Bonnie

      I am suggesting to you that the “why” will not be found in this case. Here, you have a woman who was denied tenure last March. Her appeal was denied in November. Months later, she opened fire? Is it tenure? Who knows. But what you have here is a woman who shot her brother.

      Despite the fact that she was arguing with her brother at the time, fired three shots, and then ran outside and pointed the gun at a passing car, it was labled an accident.

      Years later, she was suspecting of mailing a bomb to her superior at Harvard.

      Years later, she is suspected of walking into a faculty meeting and opening fire.

      This is a woman that clearly has issues with conflict and authority. In the local vernacular, she is batshit insane. The fact that she may have been quite intelligent does not mean that there is more than simple batshit insanity. She was certaintly smart enough to seek help if she needed it, and she chose not to.

      As for her husband, he has been and is being questioned in relation to the shooting. He drove the getaway car, although it is not apparent he knew what she had just done. I doubt anything will give “closure” to the families of the deceased.

      While my “she is crazy” idea may just seem like speculation to you, it has some support, and more information supporting it is comming out daily. The initial speculation in this case (as in most cases of this sort) has been very wrong. I would suggest to you that hearing a bunch of off the mark speculation is more hurtful to those who lost loved ones in this tragedy than a period of quiet in which the police could conduct a deliberative investigation would be. Not that Ms. Kelly is being particularly speculative or hurtful in this article.

      But Ms. Kelly- it is Alabama. Everyone has a gun.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Scott, my point is not to compare someone now charged with murder — and your point is well taken that mass shootings in the workplace are almost exclusively male crimes — with legal gun owners. My point is that, often, women of her social, educational and intellectual achievements are de facto dismissed as gun-owners.

    No question she’s deeply disturbed. It’s hard to believe she shot her brother and got away with it without an investigation.

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    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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