Local News

N.C. State alums among victims of Alabama campus shooting

Posted February 14, 2010 7:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2010 9:41 a.m. EST

— Two of the professors shot and killed Friday in a staff meeting on the University of Alabama's Huntsville campus were graduates of North Carolina State University.

UAH Biology professor Amy Bishop has been charged with one count of capital murder after authorities say she fatally shot three fellow biology professors and injured three other school employees.

Associate biology professor Adriel Johnson, 52, was among those killed. He received a doctorate from N.C. State in animal science in 1989.

“He was always there for everyone. When he came over to babysit, he would never take a nickel for babysitting,” said Jim Croom, professor of poultry science at N.C. State.

Croom said Sunday that he and his wife were friends with Johnson when he was a student at N.C. State.

“He was fun with the kids,” Mary Jo Croom recalled.

The Crooms, who live in Cary, learned of Johnson’s death Friday. 

“It's just unfathomable to me that because he was doing his job that someone shot him for it,” Mary Jo Croom said.

“I just couldn't comprehend it. It took me two days to cry,” Jim Croom said.

Professor Croom, who has taught poultry science at N.C. State for 32 years, said Johnson definitely stood out as a student.

“If the world was made up of Adriel Johnsons, we wouldn't be having all the problems we have today in the world,” he said.

The Crooms said after Johnson graduated from N.C. State, he went directly to the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Maria Ragland Davis, who received her doctorate from N.C. State in 1992 and earned her master's degree there in 1985, was also among the professors killed.

The third professor who died was Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences.

Three people were wounded. Two of them – Joseph Leahy and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo – were in critical condition early Sunday. The third, Luis Cruz-Vera, had been released from the hospital.

In a phone interview from The Associated Press, Sammie Lee Davis said he was told his wife, Maria Ragland Davis, was at a meeting to discuss the tenure status of another faculty member who got angry and started shooting.

Tenure – a type of job-for-life security afforded academics – is often a stressful process for anyone up for review, said William Setzer, chairman of the department of chemistry. Bishop was up front about the issue, often bringing it up in meetings where the subject wasn't appropriate, according to Setzer.

Jim Anderson – the father of Bishop's husband, James Anderson – told The Associated Press on Sunday his son had no idea Bishop was planning the bloodshed she's accused of.

"He knew nothing. He didn't know anything," the father said. He said that the police had spoken with his son at length and that "they are doing a good job."

Indeed, there were many things Bishop apparently did not reveal to those around her.

In 1986, Bishop shot and killed her 18-year-old brother with a shotgun at their Braintree, Mass., home. She told police at the time that she had been trying to learn how to use the gun, which her father had bought for protection, when it accidentally discharged. In all, three shots were fired: Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier said she shot once into a wall, then shot her brother, then fired a third time into the ceiling.

Authorities released her and said the episode was a tragic accident.

Bishop, 42, a neurobiologist who studied at Harvard University, joined the UAH biology faculty as an assistant professor in fall 2003. She was taken Friday night in handcuffs from a police precinct to the county jail and could be heard saying, "It didn't happen. There's no way. ... They are still alive."

The Huntsville campus has about 7,500 students in northern Alabama, not far from the Tennessee line. The university is known for its scientific and engineering programs and often works closely with NASA.