From The Associated Press
BOSTON – Amy Bishop’s intelligence was never debatable. Even as a child, she didn’t hesitate to tell people when they were wrong. As she grew older, earned a Harvard Ph.D and claimed a genius IQ of 180, her brilliance could come with a bluntness, condescension and volatile self-righteousness.
It was all on display in 2002 when she yelled, “I am Dr. Amy Bishop!” as she belted a woman at a Massachusetts restaurant in a fight over a child’s booster seat.
Eight years later, the neurobiologist was denied tenure at an Alabama university, a failure her husband and her attorney said played a role in a shooting rampage that left three of Bishop’s colleagues dead and three others injured.
Bishop’s lawyer, Roy W. Miller, said his client was part of the “intelligentsia,” so smart she has trouble relating to the world.
“Her history speaks for itself,” he said. “Something’s wrong with this lady, OK?”
Bishop, 45, grew up in suburban Braintree, about eight miles south of Boston. Her mother, Judith, was active in local politics as one of 240 elected town meeting members. Her father, Samuel Bishop, was a Northeastern University art professor whose former students include David Bushell, a producer on films including the Academy Award-winning “Sling Blade.”
The Bishops were friendly and academically minded parents, often urging their children, both gifted students and violinists, to get their work done, Dan Shaw said. He was frequently over at their house as a child visiting the Bishops’ son, Seth.
Shaw didn’t know Amy Bishop well but remembered her “exceptional intelligence” and that she wasn’t shy about giving her opinion.
“If somebody was talking about something and she felt they were incorrect, she’d (say) to the person, this is this or that is that,” he said.
Shaw also recalled the funeral for Seth Bishop. The 18-year-old was killed in 1986 when his sister fired a shotgun blast into his chest, then fled. She was arrested at gunpoint but never charged, which was ruled accidental.
That killing is getting new scrutiny since the rampage at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Shaw, 40, remembered waiting in a line of mourners to give condolences to the family, and found Amy Bishop being propped up by her parents, weeping hysterically.
Shaw said no one in Braintree, where Shaw has lived most of his life, ever thought she meant to kill her brother, whom Bishop named her only son after. Shaw’s opinion hasn’t changed, despite implications by the current police chief that she was protected by a cover-up.
“The Bishops had no political clout in town,” Shaw said.
Amy Bishop was at Northeastern University when she shot her brother, and there was no interruption to her schooling. She graduated cum laude in 1988 with a biology degree, completing an honors thesis titled, “The effect of temperature on the recovery of sea lamprey from full spinal cord transection.”
She earned her Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard in 1993. It was also that year that she was questioned by police when a doctor she worked with at Children’s Hospital received a mail bomb that never went off. No one was ever charged in the case.
After earning her doctorate, she began an academic career that took her from Harvard to Huntsville. Bishop co-authored 17 published papers and also invented a new kind of cell incubator. In the meantime, she had three daughters and a son with her husband, James Anderson, whom she met at a gathering to play the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game.
She moved in 2003 to Huntsville, where students gave her mixed reviews. Some found her obsessed with her Harvard pedigree, while others hailed her brilliance. Despite her prodigious intellect, she was denied tenure. Her job was about to end this semester.
Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist from Tufts University in the Boston suburb of Medford, said the tenure denial could have been like “a kind of deadly assault on her ego” if her self-worth was wrapped up in her academic credentials.
“In that way, firing a gun at those people could feel like self-defense in a twisted way,” he said.
Bishop’s friend Rob Dinsmoor said she was frustrated over her tenure battle, but never let on how furious she was. There were other things she hid during their regular conversations, including that she once had a brother.
“I felt we could talk about anything,” Dinsmoor said. “But obviously there were things that she would not talk to me about.”
Dinsmoor said that amid her career problems, Bishop dreamed about a literary escape. One of her three unpublished novels, “Amazon Fever,” has pieces of her real life. One character was tortured by the death of his brother. Bishop takes some shots at Harvard, including the line, “At Harvard even the bar tenders are snotty.” Her main character, a female researcher, is frustrated about her stalled career and literally dreams about tenure.
“She felt warm, happy, fulfilled and yet she knew it was just a dream,” wrote Bishop, a second cousin of novelist John Irving.
Bishop is being held without bond on capital murder charges. She’s under suicide watch, and her attorney said she’s remorseful but can’t recall the shooting — which is exactly what she told police after she shot her brother.
Bishop’s husband said she calls to check on their children, but he can’t tell how’s she doing. There are other things he’s said he doesn’t know about his wife, including her birthday or how she got the gun she used recently at a practice range. It’s also beyond him how a brilliant woman with a violent past and uncertain future may have snapped.
“She basically loved everyone,” Anderson said. “That’s why I can’t explain anything. I don’t know what happened.”