On the Campus Shooting in Alabama

Last Friday, Dr. Amy Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), was charged with murder and three counts of attempted murder after she allegedly opened fire on colleagues at a department meeting.

The motive for the shooting appears to be anger--Dr. Bishop was not going to be given tenure, and for tenure-track positions, that means the professor has to leave.

This week, several stories on Bishop have painted a disturbing and violent image of the defendant--including that she had been under investigating in a pipe bomb incident, she shot and killed her brother (it was declared accidental) back in 1986, she pointed a gun at another colleague, and was arrested for assault after a fight at a restaurant.

I had just a few observations on this unfortunate incident:

The Moron Detector

When I read stories that try to link the behavior of one violent sociopath to a political group my "moron detector" rings loudly.

This story describes Bishop as an "obsessed" supporter of President Obama.

In contrast, this story characterizes the rhetoric of Joe Stack, the man who is believed to have crashed the plane into an IRS building in Texas, as "could have been taken directly from a handwritten sign at a tea party rally."

What is my take-home message with this garbage?

Am I to assume that all Obama supporters and all Tea Party participants are likely to commit violence and should be incarcerated immediately?

It is amazing how quickly and shamelessly some folks will try to use tragedies for a contrived political gain.


The Witness Statements

I was interested in reading some of the witness statements on the UAH shooting.

One person in the room when the gunfire erupted was Dr. Debra Moriarty and her statements about the incident included that it was unexpected (the defendant stood-up and started shooting), there was little time to think, and that she tried communicating with the shooter (appealing to her as an acquaintance and as a grandmother).

Her attempt at conversation was unsuccessful as Bishop pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger--fortunately the gun misfired.

Moriarty's statements raise important issues on active shooter scenarios in general.

During these incidents, it is necessary, whatever your occupation, to have thought about what to do before the violence happens--there simply is not time to think when the gunfire starts.

Also, one has to understand that in situations like the UAH shooting, the shooter is intent on killing people. Therefore, it is not necessary to warn or reason with them--if the decision is to fight, you have to go at them with 100% of your will with the intent that "I will survive."

If the shooter is a 300 lbs. body builder and his gun jams, at least my ball point pen and I will keep him busy (I include the guy pummeling me as busy) giving a chance for authorities to arrive, instead of allowing the shooter to freely try to clear the jammed firearm in a meeting room or permitting him to wander the halls looking for additional victims.


Campuses Are Unprepared for These Incidents (but it is not necessarily anyone's fault)

Finally, colleges and universities are ill-prepared to handle active shooter scenarios.

Unlike K-12 schools, access to administrators, faculty, and students is unhindered. Campus buildings are largely open and only those law-abiding citizens who care about "no weapons rules" abide by them.

I am sure campus police and other agencies did a wonderful job in responding to the shots fired call, but they were still in no position to help the meeting attendees during the 120 seconds of violence.

Last year, the Mrs. was mandated to attend a campus safety lecture designed for faculty. The retired police officer providing the training primarily offered a history of school violence and safety tips including call 911 immediate and how to discern cover versus concealment.

Nice, but the institution really does not want faculty to consider the reality: if a there is a shooter in your classroom, you and the students are on your own.


Elena said...

One thing that bothers me about the schools, even high schools, is that they drill into the kids the need to hide when something like this happens. I tell my kids the opposite. They need to take the person out. Why just lay there like a sitting duck waiting for their demise? At the very least try and stop the person so that they can't kill everyone. Other mothers tell me I'm wrong, but I feel I didn't raise my kids to cower in fear. If more people fought back instead of just rolling over they could bring down the "bad guy" quicker stopping worse carnage.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Wow, do I agree with you.

On part 1, it is such sloppy journalism. They should just stick to the point (what happened). Unfortunately we have this pundit culture that makes everything a political statement. Both of them sound to me like they died and killed from terminal selfishness. Okay, maybe Ms. Bishop was nuts.

On part 2, I agree with you and Elena. If I'm going down, it's going to be a fight!

On part 3, yeah. We are on our own. We need to remember that stuff happens, stuff happens to us, and we can prepare for some of it.

What a great post. Like a great cup of morning coffee. Hey, Elena, I like your style too!

Ann T.

Expat From Hell said...

What great insight, SlamDunks! I, too, wonder what the political connections are in these cases, and if they are even remotely relevant. For sure, what troubles me is that this kind of violence has seemed to find a home "on campus". What happened to the good old days when it stayed safely in our post offices? EFH

Bob G. said...

You must have a newer version of the "moron detector"...mine just blinks at varying speeds, depending on the level of moronic behavior exhibited, but NO audible tones...LOL

I wish everyone would see people like the pilot & the prof AS RADICALS...period.

On your "fight or flight" take, I would state that with that 300 lb'er going at it, a person's (read defender or potential victim) level of VOA has MUCH to do with abbreviating a situation such as that.

And when the chips are down, you ARE your own FIRST, BEST defense.
Learn it
Live it
Love it.

((They used to teach how to take a cocked revolver from a person W/O getting shot point blank - web of thumb between hammer & frame - it'll hurt like hell, but it works.
Can't same same for autos.

Good observations AND comments.

Herding Cats said...

School shootings terrify me. I know colleges are ill-prepared for lockdowns, but I feel like a lot of K-12 schools are as well. We have drills, but when the real thing happened at my school (and thank god it was not super serious) everyone went into slight panic mode. Can we ever be completely prepared? I'm not sure.

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

Seriously, stories like this make me sick...what is our world coming to? Who goes to work thinking that they might get shot by a disgruntled co-worker? You're right, you can't really prepare...you're on your own.

 ALH said...

Great observations. The last part about campus safety definitely concerns me as I am a student who lives on campus. There's currently some legislation about concealed carry on campus and I am going back and forth on how I feel about it. There are a lot of factors and I've been unable to really nail down which side of the argument to support.
If you post anymore in regard to campus safety or concealed carry on campuses I'd like to know so I can see your take on it.

A Doc 2 Be said...

In a sad way, I'm glad it is making press that mentally disturbed faculty are amongst all of us who attend school.

Typically, these sociopaths are extremely bright and obtain PhDs from solid institutions but the smattering of idiosyncrasies never alarms anyone for some reason.

I've been the target of such a faculty and it is scary. While he has never aimed a gun at me, he has done everything in his power to derail med school for me... and is knife collector who "jokingly" threatened one of his students in class.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Was she licensed to carry a weapon?

We have a VA legislator who wants to make it legal for FT faculty to carry guns.

And of course, there are those lobbying to make concealed weapons on campus okay.

Guns don't make me feel safer. Trained emergency response people do.

There are too many whackos out there with access to guns.

Linz said...

this kind of violence makes me so sad, so angry, and so tired. i know there's no reasoning or logic behind the motive for shooting...but it's just so RIDICULOUS and sickening and...and... sigh. but i enjoyed your post because instead of just reacting to the tragedy, you've formulated defense strategies and common sense preparations for such an event. thank you for that.

suzicate said...

We live in scary times. I admit to be a little naive when it comes to the motivation behind some of these horrid crimes as I tend to think they're just nut case, but you've given me much more to ponder on this issue. Another great post.

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is exactly what I was looking for! Clarifies
some misnomers I've read

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is exactly what I was looking for! Clears up
many contradictions I've read

Zuzanna said...

Yea, i heart about it.

Cindy (C.L.) Beck said...

Such a sad story. She was obviously a woman used to getting her way by violence.

One thing I'm wondering about though ... I've always heard that just because a professor isn't given tenure doesn't mean they have to leave. It just means their position is not as secure should there be layoffs at the school.

Anybody else heard that?

Good article, Slam Dunks, and thanks for the reminder about the tactical pen. :)

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comments.

@ Elena: I agree with your approach and I see nothing wrong with teaching a fight-back approach.

@ Bob G.: Good insight. I was also taught the fleshy hand revolver disarming technique--just glad that I did not have to ever use it--it is a painful technique.

@ A Doc 2 Be: I am sorry to hear about that. Is there anyone else in the institution that you feel comfortable reporting that behavor to?

@ ALH: I will share anything relevant. For the most part, I intentionally avoided the conceal carry debate in this post.

With my posts, I try to pick an angle that I feel is ignored by other sources on the web--I think conceal carry will be debated endlessly as more of these unfortunate incidents occur.

@ Cindy Beck: In general, tenure-track hires are given 6 or 7 years to achieve tenure. The application process is usually done a year prior so if the professor is denied tenure, he or she has a full year to find another job--as their employment status is terminated once the 6 or 7 year is reached.

There may be exceptions as you suggest--I am just not familiar with that scenario.

LadyFi said...

I agree with you! Why leave the core of the story to try and make it political?

Midlife Jobhunter said...

My house is about 3 miles from the Austin incident. I didn't even know about it until a friend called @5pm that day - to see how close it was to me. I don't turn the TV on during the day and had been in the car (not during the news time on the hour) always tuned to NPR.

Strange, what makes people do horrible things. Stack? Crazy. How else to explain. I feel such sorrow for his wife and daughter.

Will drive by the building tomorrow on the way to the airport. Flying to Alabama to visit UA with youngest son. Okay, going to sleep now.

Holly said...

Why must there always be a political connection to these people who commit horrible acts. h yeah, sensationalistic journalism sells.

Eternally Distracted said...

I hate all the political connections. i had just finished reading the story... Fortunately gun crime is not something I read about often here.

Kristin said...

So tragic. And potentially could have been prevented?

Stephanie Faris said...

Scary stuff. I always wondered about people in that situation. Do you try to reason with the shooter or just protect yourself? You're right...they are not in their right mind when they get in that mode. Reasoning will do no good. Once they've gotten that far along, they're going all the way and no amount of begging will really get through to them.

Have you ever seen the Dane Cook bit about the crazy guy in his office...and how he's always nice to him because one day that guy will come in shooting and he wants to be the guy the shooter passes over...

Stephanie Faris said...

Dane Cook video:


suzicate said...

In the morning, there will be an award waiting at my blog for you.

Sandra G. said...

You're right, Slamdunk - you cannot negotiate with an active shooter. You need to take charge with 100% of your being in order to survive the encounter.

It always rocks me back a bit on my heels when the perp in cases like these is a woman.

Slamdunk said...

@ Suzicate: Thank you.

@ Stephanie Faris: I had not seen that video, but I am sure there are those would agree that the comic routine is a proactive approach.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

Good post. All this anger in our country is extremely distressing.
Where to turn? How to react?
What happened to discussion and resolution? None of us are entitled... to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies: "No one ever said life is fair... at least they never said it to me."
I'm with Elena... I'm gonna try to take down the person if it's at all possible & hopefully I'll get some help with that!

Dan said...

If you haven't noticed, the standards of what passes for journalism have fallen to the point that ad hominem attacks based on political ideology are rampant.

Sad to say, the sloppy lack of objective reporting and logic has even infiltrated text books. It is what happens when good people fail to stand up for what is right - no matter the field. One can only hope that the political rhetoric will eventually burn itself out.

Rowe said...

I hope someone brave like Elena is nearby if ever I find myself in a terrifying situation like this. I'd probably panic if not try to talk the perpetrator around. Nobody wants to be hurt or killed and when there is a gun going off, that is, I think, what most people are thinking about - similar to when there is a fire and everybody is frantic and running for safety to avoid being burnt. Not many of us are prepared for emergencies or disasters and unfortunately they happen randomly and like an earthquake without warning. Perhaps we need more regular drills and training in case of emergency - of the natural or human kind.

Stephen Tremp said...

Its hard to tell who the schiopaths are. Some are loud and violent, some are quiet and peaceable. I have to admit the bad guys in my book have a socio-political statement to make and kill powerful global leaders to get their message across.

Stephen Tremp

Luisa Doraz said...

A good lesson to always be aware of your surroundings and do not trust anyone! Hope all is well!

Amanda West said...

Gah. That's just awful and sad.

When I lived in Colorado, on April 20th (date of Columbine shooting), the school would have cops come in to check our bags and pat us down and search lockers and stuff for weapons.

But I was thinking, what about the rest of the freakin' school year?

It was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen.

Susie of Arabia said...

She's definitely a whack job - very scarey. One's reaction in the time of crisis like that is crucial. Some people are just frozen because they are so stunned.