Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is charged with killing three of her colleagues and seriously injuring three others after opening fire at a Feb. 12th faculty meeting. This shocking event feels even more tragic when one learns more about Amy Bishop's past, and, gets a real impression that her life might have unfolded very differently if people - particularly certain police officers - had treated her differently many years ago.
I'm referring mainly to the alarmingly inept and mysterious response of the Braintree, MA. police (and the state police detective involved) back in 1986, after Bishop had shot and killed her teenage brother, Seth, at their home in Braintree. The Braintree police made an irresponsibly quick determination that it was an "accidental" death without completing a thorough investigation. They released Bishop a few hours after the shooting even though she had left the scene and pulled her shotgun on two citizens and a Braintreee police officer before, finally, surrendering to police.
On Feb. 25th, Norfolk County district attorney William Keating, thankfully, requested that an inquest be conducted into the death of Seth Bishop and said it's possible the process might lead to a homicide charge against Amy. Hopefully, the inquest will help explain large, inexcusable gaps in the police's public accounting - so far- of their treatment of Amy Biship.
Meanwhile, when I read a few of the public police reports done after Seth Bishop's death in 1986, I was amazed to learn how many puzzling, troubling pieces of the story exist beyond the parts of the story that have become known.
The following are just ten points - among many - about this 1986 incident and the police response to it - that I think are noteworthy, and, have been overlooked in news stories:
1. Amy Bishop, in an interview with Braintree police, said that immediately after shooting her brother, she left her home without knowing she had shot and killed him. According to the March 30, 1987 report written by State Trooper Brian Howe, Amy Biship "thought she had ruined the kitchen, but was not aware of the fact that she had struck her brother with the shotgun discharge."
Huh? I guess Amy could've been traumatized and blotted that out, but, it seems beyond belief that even a mentally ill or shocked human being could be unaware whether her gunshot had hit her brother who was in close proximity.
2. Just prior to killing her brother, Amy apparently fired one shot from the same shotgun while in her room upstairs and later, police found a bullet hole in the wall. In an interview Dec. 17, 1986, Amy's mother, Judy, was asked if she'd heard any shots from the upstairs prior to Amy shooting her brother, and she said no, "but, she believed that the house was relatively well sound-proofed and that such a discharge would not necessarily be heard on another floor of the house."
What? How could anyone NOT hear a shotgun blast from upstairs? And, then choose that moment to assert how "soundproof" the house is?3. Amy Bishop, immediately after shooting her brother, went to an auto dealership not far away and pointed her gun at two employees and demanded a car. Shortly after that, two Braintree police officers apprehended her near a local store. A police report stated that while one cop tried to reason with Amy and asked her to drop her rifle, the other police officer drew his revolver and "yelled three times for her to 'Drop the rifle' and after the third time, she did." In a Feb. 24th Boston Herald column, one of those two officers recounted how Bishop had pointed her shotgun at him.
4. The police took Amy back to the Braintree police station and were in the process of interviewing her about the shooting of her brother when suddenly their interview was cut short. There are at least two different versions as to exactly how it was stopped.
In one version, one of the cops, Lt. John Sullivan, wrote a report stating that he asked Amy questions, and, then, his report stated: "I asked her if she shot her brother on purpose and she said no." At that point, her mother came into the booking room with Sgt. Brady and mother said she didn't want her to make any further statement or be asked any more questions.." Amy agreed and Lt. Sullivan left to consult with other police. It was determined no charges would be brought against Amy.
In the other version, current Braintree Chief Paul Frazier said he was told recently that the then-lieutenant reponsible for booking Bishop received a phone call from Chief John Polio, or, someone calling on his behalf, requesting the booking to stop. Then, Amy was released to her mother and they left.
This outcome was unacceptable. The police put the Bishops' wishes ahead of their investigation.
5. State Police Trooper Howe, in his March, 1987 report, said that due to the "highly emotional state" of Amy Bishop after she was brought to the police station, it had been impossible to question her; hence, she was released to her mother. Howe, continuing in his report, stated that it was decided to arrange interviews at a later time, "allowing witnesses a sufficient time to stabilize their emotions."
So, allowing Amy (or, perhaps her mother) to calm down was viewed, apparently, as more urgent than getting to the truth and/or, getting Amy an appropriate psychiatric evaluation and treatment. If the police were so struck by and concerned with Amy's emotional state, why would they not try to transport her to a facility where she could receive urgently-needed help, and, they'd be taking an appropriate step to further their investigation.
6. The Braintree police then, for unknown reasons, waited 11 days before interviewing Amy Bsihsop and her mother, the only witness to the shooting.
Was this because the cops simply & blatantly decided to accept Judy Bishop's explanation of Amy's "accidental" shooting without checking facts? Or, were other factors involved?
7. Braintree's chief of police in 1986, Ron Polio, has said recently he was unaware that Amy had pointed her gun toward two auto dealership employees or at his own police officers after she had shot her brother. Polio said he first learned about these actions by Amy when he first read the police reports within the past few weeks -- 23 years later. While Polio has recently spoken to reporters on a few occasions, he has failed to clearly explain how things got so messed up on his watch in Braintree.
How could his own cops - including two who put themselves in jeopardy to catch Amy at gunpoint - know about Amy's reckless actions without him knowing? Or, was he choosing to disregard Amy's behavior - perhaps for reasons not yet known?
8. It turns out Polio isn't the only law enforcement official who's claiming he never knew about Amy Bishop's pointing her gun at others after shooting her brother. The state trooper who wrote the March, 1987 report, Brian Howe, for still-unknown reasons, never included any information about this entire part of Amy Bishop's activities on Dec. 6, 1986.
Howe, now retired, has said virtually nothing in recent weeks. Delahunt said his office didn't know about Amy's other actions, but, this is hard to fathom given that Howe, who was Delahunt's office's liaison to Braintree, had worked with Braintree cops in investigating Seth Bishop's death. Interestingly, the Patriot Ledger, in its initial report of Seth's death, mentioned nothing about Amy's behavior after the shooting.
9) The police reports from the scene later were "missing" for 23 years; they turned up only in recent days in Braintree after Bishop's arrest for murder in Alabama.
10) In the newspaper reporting of recent weeks, there have been at least two references to the point that the decision to release Amy Bishop did not sit well with police in the department back in 1986.
Perhaps certain dissatisfied police officers wanted to talk to the press or public, but were "discouraged" from doing so? No one knows. No one has really opened up on all this.
There are many more unanwered questions about this 1986 shooting and I hope the inquest will cause more of the truth to surface. Right now, we know that the Braintree police failed to do their job properly. Maybe we'll learn more in the future about why and how that happened. Relatives and friends of the victims of Amy Bishop's Feb., 2010 killing of her colleagues at the University of Alabama in Huntsville might always wonder about what caused the apparent police negligence in Braintree.