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A History of Violence

Something is very wrong with Amy Bishop, and there has been something wrong with her for a very long time. But just what is her problem, and how did she manage to keep it at least somewhat under control for so long? As a psychologist, I have found this story so fascinating that I have barely been able to focus on anything else for the past few days.

Amy Bishop is a professor at the University of Alabama at Huntville who shot six of her colleagues at a Biology Department meeting on Friday, February 12. She had taken a 9-millimeter pistol with her to the meeting, loaded with 16 bullets. She did not have a permit for the weapon. She has been charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder so far. From The New York Times:

Those killed were Gopi Podila, 52, the chairman of the biology department; Maria Ragland Davis, 50, a professor who studied plant pathogens; and Adriel Johnson, 52, a cell biologist who also taught Boy Scouts about science.

Two of the wounded were Joseph Leahy, 50, a microbiologist, and Stephanie Monticciolo, 62, a staff assistant, both of whom were in critical condition. The third was Luis Cruz-Vera, 40, a molecular biologist, who was released from the hospital on Saturday.

A neuroscientist with a PhD from Harvard University, Bishop was working on a start-up company to market a portable cell incubator that she had invented with her husband. The couple had won the $25,000 seed money in an Alabama business competition. Bishop and Anderson have four children, the oldest of whom is 18.

Bishop had been denied tenure twice by her department, and her appeal had been denied in April of 2009. At the end of the Spring semester she would have had to leave UAH. She felt she had been unfairly treated because of personality issues, and had apparently retained a lawyer to help her fight the decision. However, with her qualifications, Bishop should have been able to find another teaching job easily. On the other hand, why did she end up at UAH in the first place when she had such outstanding qualifications?

My excuse for writing about this at TC is that, according to the Boston Herald, quoting “a family source,” Bishop

was a far-left political extremist who was “obsessed” with President Obama to the point of being off-putting.

In addition, many right-wing blogs are trying to turn this tragic story into a political issue, claiming that Amy Bishop is a radical socialist, and supposedly that should explain her losing control and going on a shooting rampage.

At least one blog is suggesting the shootings were based on race, because most of the people Bishop shot were people of color. I also saw this suggestion made on Twitter several time yesterday.

…Bishop shot almost every non-white faculty member in the department. (She also shot and wounded two white victims, a professor and a staff member.) She killed both African-American professors in the department (one of whom was too junior to have had anything to do with Bishop’s tenure decision). She killed the department chair, who was ethnically South Asian. A Latino faculty member was wounded. There may only be two non-white faculty left in the department. Whether she intended it or not, Amy Bishop effected a racial purge of the Alabama Huntsville biology department.

The following is a summary of what I have learned about Amy Bishop so far.

Amy Bishop was born on April 24, 1965, in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Seth Bishop

Over the past few days, it has become clear that Bishop has a history of violence. In 1986, Bishop killed her 18-year-old brother Seth Bishop with a shotgun blast through his heart. Seth was reportedly a serious violinist and had won numerous science awards. Various reports claim that Amy was either 19, 20, or 22 at the time and was living at home. If she was born in 1965, she would have been 23 or 24 in 1986.

This is what happened, based on a number of accounts I have read, including the preliminary report of the Massachusetts State Police investigation. Amy had had an argument with her father (Samuel Bishop), who then left the house to go shopping.

Amy claimed that she was nervous about a break-in that had recently occurred at her home, and she suddenly decided that she should learn how to load one of the shotguns that Samuel and Seth used for target shooting. She went to her room and put bullets in the gun, but was unable to remove them and during this process she accidentally pulled the trigger and blew a hole through the wall of her bedroom.

In the meantime, Amy’s mother Judy had come home and Seth had gone to the grocery store to get food for lunch. Amy came downstairs carrying the shotgun and went into the kitchen where her mother was. Just then, Seth came home carrying a bag of groceries. Amy said she then asked Seth to help her unload the weapon, which she was carrying pointed downward by her side. She claimed that Seth told her to point the gun up. As she raised the firearm, she “accidentally” pulled the trigger for the second time and shot Seth through the heart.

Bishop then ran out of the house, firing the shotgun a third time through the ceiling as she left. Bishop then went to a car dealership near her home, held a gun to the chest of Thomas Pettigrew, then 22, who now lives in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Bishop appeared agitated and nervous, Pettigrew said. The University of Alabama professor now accused of killing three colleagues Friday said she needed a car because, “I got into a fight with my husband and he’s going to kill me,” the worker recalled.

Pettigrew then watched as Bishop walked through the dealership looking at cars, all the while grasping the gun.

By then, police arrived and swarmed the parking lot. One armed officer climbed up on a nearby roof, Pettigrew said, and could have taken her out.

Instead, they arrested her. Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier has said officers on duty claim they were forced by retired former Chief John Polio to let Bishop, whose mother was a member of the police personnel board, go. Polio denies that and said then-District Attorney William Delahunt [now serving in the House of Representatives] investigated the case and ruled it an accident.

In the light of recent events, the Braintree Police are currently searching for the 1986 police report, which somehow conveniently disappeared sometime between 1986 and 1988. Current Braintree Police Chief Paul Frasier was an officer in 1986, and says many on the force were frustrated when the case was dropped. He is now looking into whether the case should be reopened.

Are you getting the feeling the Bishops had a highly dysfunctional family? I am. From the Boston Herald:

A classmate of Seth Bishop’s recalled yesterday that the boy, who was “painfully shy,” never talked about his older, only sibling.

“It was as if he was a complete stranger in her life. It seemed like a dysfunctional family. We just accepted them as being odd,” said the classmate, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity.

Amy Bishop, he said, “wasn’t mean because she wasn’t someone you could get close to. She wasn’t an attractive girl, she didn’t have friends. She didn’t work at having friends. I think people probably, over time, learned to leave her alone.”

The Bishop household, he said, “was anything but a home . . . It was just a really dreary, dark place where there wasn’t a lot of love.”

That makes sense, because so far no one seems to have heard anything from Bishop’s parents, who currently live in Ipswitch, Massachusetts. Perhaps they are in Huntsville now with their four grandchildren, one of whom is only in the third grade, but if they are it hasn’t been reported in the media yet.

Bishop and her husband James Anderson had met in the 1980s, when they were students at Northeastern University in Boston. Bishop went on to get her PhD at Harvard and in 1993, she held a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard and worked at Children’s Hospital where she again got into trouble–this time she was considered a suspect in the mailing of a package containing two pipe bombs to a faculty member with whom she had had a disagreement.

Amy Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, were questioned after a package containing two bombs was sent to the Newton home of Dr. Paul Rosenberg, a professor and doctor at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.


Rosenberg was opening mail, which had been set aside by a cat-sitter, when he returned from a Caribbean vacation on Dec. 19, 1993, according to Globe reports at the time.

Opening a long, thin package addressed to “Mr. Paul Rosenberg M.D.,” he saw wires and a cylinder inside. He and his wife ran from the house and called police.

The package contained two 6-inch pipe bombs connected to two nine-volt batteries.

In March 1994, the Globe reported that federal investigators had identified a prime suspect in the case. But the article did not name the suspect.

But it turns out that the subject was Bishop. She and her husband were both questioned by the Feds and their house was searched.

…the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms focused on Bishop, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow who was working in the human biochemstry lab at Children’s Hospital at the time, and her husband, Anderson.

Bishop surfaced as a suspect because she was allegedly concerned that she was going to receive a negative evaluation from Rosenberg on her doctorate work, the official said.

A pattern seems to be forming, doesn’t it? James Anderson claims that neither he nor his wife were suspects in 1993, but Sylvia Fluckiger, who worked with Bishop as a lab assistant says otherwise. According to Fluckiger, Amy Bishop smirked when she talked about being questioned, and others in the lab were “knew she had a beef with Paul Rosenberg” and didn’t see how the bombing could be a coincidence.

During the search, the Feds found a novel on Bishop’s computer about a woman who had killed her own brother and wanted to “make amends by becoming a great scientist.”

I have no doubt that a lot more information is going to come out about both Bishop and Anderson. But based on what we know so far, she was a ticking time bomb just waiting for the right trigger to set her off. Maybe we’ll never know what it was, but it seems clear that she should have been arrested after she killed her brother and there should have been a thorough investigation. I also have no doubt that Bishop has something seriously wrong with her psychologically. Normal people do not go on shooting sprees because of career setbacks.

I’m hoping that with more information it will be possible to understand better what happened to Bishop. There are a few clues. First, after she shot her colleagues on Friday, she called her husband and asked him to pick her up, making no mention of the shooting. In addition, students reported that earlier in the day, Bishop taught two classes and seemed the same as always–calm and in control. Then when she was arrested, she denied that the events could have happened:

A stunned Bishop, dressed in jeans and a pink sweater, was seen being driven away from the University of Alabama campus by police after the incident, shaking her head in disbelief.

“It didn’t happen. There’s no way. They’re still alive,” she murmured to local television station WHNT-TV as she climbed into the vehicle.

To me, this suggests some kind of dissociation. Could she have been subject to dissociative fugue states? After she shot her brother, Bishop also claimed not to recall leaving her house or putting on a jacket first. She could have been lying, but then why wouldn’t she claim not to recall any of the incident? She also concealed the death of her brother from everyone she knew in Alabama–no one even knew that she had a brother, much less that she had killed him. And no one knew about her being a suspect in the mail bomb case.

Another possibility is that Bishop developed a psychological disorder as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, killing her own brother, and apparently not really dealing with what she had done. I can only imagine what it would be like to live with that kind of knowledge and guilt. It would not be at all surprising if she suffered from depression, but she was so highly functioning and successful that that seems unlikely. I don’t want to speculate any further just yet, because not enough is known yet.

I think we can feel free to speculate in the comments though. And I will keep following this story with avid interest.

UPDATE: I did not mean to denigrate UAH or state universities when I expressed surprise that Bishop ended up in Alabama. I was trying to suggest that she may have had less than stellar recommendations from faculty supervisors and so chose to go as far away from Harvard as she could. I come from the Midwest, where many of the top schools are state universities, so this implication did not even occur to me. In fact my father was a professor at a state university in Indiana.

143 Responses

  1. Somehow I doubt that Amy Bishop is any more of a socialist than Barack Obama is, but I’d love to know more about her “obsession” with Obama.

    • Maybe she channeled some of her anger into politics. I know I do that.

    • Remember The Onion vid making fun of Obama fans and how they were listless zombies after he won? There was a line in there by one of the roommates about how they wished they had their roommate back even if he was totally annoying them by talking incessantly about Obama.

      How many people do we all know who turned into Obama-obsessed zombies who could not stop talking about him no matter how offensive they were? It was common enough to hardly be considered some anomaly! (of course, it’s still could be considered a disorder, but not one that has any causal link with killing one’s colleagues — sheesh).

  2. Remember when the proggers were trying to make a big deal of this?:

    Man Charged With Stockpiling Weapons Was Tea Partier, Palin Fan

    I wondered why this story vanished all of the sudden.

  3. Wow, BB. Thanks for doing the yeoman’s work on this. I have been wondering about this story too, and your investigation answers many questions and as always, stimulates more.

    It is sick beyond sick that any one would try and turn this into a political football, but that seems to be the way it goes in these here United States.

  4. I have met her when I was in Boston doing grad work. It was a symposium on women in Academia at the Schlesinger Library.

    She struck me as normal but pensive. For some reason, I feel sorry for her because I know that the tenure process is very stressful. Yes, I am angry and how awful for the families. At least it was not the students.

    I want to see what the whole story is. This could be a case of someone not getting the medical attention they needed.

    • Did you ever talk to her? I agree that she had to be under a lot of stress, and from what I have heard I do think she may have been treated unfairly. I couldn’t put everything in this post, but I’m going to keep watching for more info. Her husband claims that the department was ordered to give her tenure or start over. However, he seems to be a little strange as well, so I don’t know how trustworthy he is.

      Normal people don’t flip out and go on shooting sprees though.

      • I have a feeling that the staff understood what a nutty person she was. Certainly, the must have suspected she might have sent a bomb to another instructor, or in the very least she smirked when she talked about it. Certainly this was not lost on those processing her tenure.
        It has not been talked about, but I am sure that her University was yet another “gun free zone” where everyone has a target on their back. To me, this is just another reason to ignore “gun free zones” if you have a legal concealed carry permit. If some maniac pulls out a gun, you are toast.

        • The people at UAH did not know anything about Bishop being investigated for the mail bomb or that she shot her brother or even had a brother. They new nothing about all this history until the past two days.

          • That just doesn’t seem fair to me. Why wasn’t that information given to the administration, for crying out loud? Might have given those killed a chance in the long run.

          • Because Amy lied? The people at Harvard didn’t know anything about her brother either. She was “cleared” of the bombing charges.

    • “At least it was not the students.”
      WTF? Dead faculty is better than dead students?

      • It’s tragic at any age; but there’s an extra pang when a young person’s life is ended too early.

      • I told my DH to be very careful at faculty meetings after hearing this. Fact is, tenure is harder and harder to get. And from what I hear… more and more arbitrary.

        It seems to me that universities have figured out it is much cheaper to keep hiring “visiting” faculty. And letting them go. I mean… look at the ages of the faculty here. The youngest is 40??

        Says a lot.

        Not that it is “normal” to kill your fellow faculty. But… here’s the deal…. if she was so nuts, what was she doing there in the first place? And why did they keep her so long?? I’ll tell ya why: sane people won’t put up with that B.S.

      • Get a grip. A spree shooting happened. Okay. She had a problem and unfortunately brought others into it.

        As someone who teaches grad students I am glad that she did not turn her wrath on the students who trust her to teach them and not to shoot them. Imagine a room full of kids sitting there with blue books in hand and she pulls a gun on them. This event was scary for students and faculty alike but several people at my university said the same thing I did about thanking God that her students were not harmed physically in any way. Kids already have enough worrying about there own classmates turning guns on them. The last thing they need to fear is their professors.

  5. BB – did you mean February 12, not April 12 – 2nd paragraph.

  6. On the race issue. For sake of stating the obvious, it was the University of Alabama. The south typically has more tenured professors of color. I want to look into the race issue a bit more.

    • I’ll be interested to learn what you find out. Until we know more about her and her family we can’t be sure they weren’t bigots. The head of the department, who is one of the people who died, had supported Bishop’s tenure application.

  7. I am interested in this too. When I first heard about it, I wondered if she had been a target of workplace bullying, because often people who don’t get tenure are, either before or after. But the more I learn the less I think she was bullied. If anything, it seems like Alabama did the right thing.

    Curious about one comment. I wonder why, bb, you think someone with her credentials is unlikely to wind up at UAH? I have a PhD from Yale and a JD from Duke and teach at a state university. Unless you are someone’s golden boy, better placements don’t come easily. One article I read had a comment from one of her colleagues: “She had an inflated sense of her own importance.” I dare say it probably also worked the other way. I never mention my degrees lest I get the “who do you think you are?” attitude. All you have to do is mention where you went to school as a matter of fact and people think you are showing off. Academe is a twisted place in many ways.

    This woman seems like a cold blooded killer. Maybe there are circumstances that explain it, but it seems like she got away with one murder and one attempted murder before. (But then, a lot of Obots do seem to be in a dissociative fugue.)

    • It just seems like she could have gotten a job at a more prestigious university. But she may have wanted to move to that area because there is a lot of biochem stuff going on. The other thing I was thinking is that she may have been told that she wouldn’t be getting a job at Harvard.

      I certainly don’t have anything against state universities. Do you know UAH to be a top school? This is a branch of the main University too.

      • A lot of people with degrees from top schools wind up at small schools. I am not at a research one university, but I am in the humanities where jobs are very scarce. Scientists don’t always land at great places though. A lot depends on private letters of recommendation that one is not allowed to see. I can see, though, how not getting tenure there would be a double-slap in the face, as she probably thought of it as a 3rd rate place. Sometimes particular departments are good, though, even if the university isn’t. Her husband was also from AL, according to a link I followed in your post.

        • Well, that was what I was thinking about–that her letters of recommendation were probably tepid. From what I have read, she should have gotten tenure based on her work and the money she had brought into the university. I think she was probably right that some colleagues just didn’t like her. But in her field, she surely could have gotten another job, plus she was likely to make a lot of money from her invention.

      • Here’s some info on UAH:

        The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is an autonomous campus of The University of Alabama System dedicated to excellence in teaching, research and service. UAH is a key participant in one of the nation’s major international centers for advanced technological research and utilizes its position in this environment to provide unique opportunities and creative undergraduate and graduate programs for students in multiple fields in business, engineering, liberal arts, nursing and science. UAH is committed to maintaining a diverse academic community of the highest quality and to providing an environment that facilitates intellectual, cultural, personal, and professional growth.

        Huntsville is home to the Red Stone Arsenal (DOD) and the Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA). There’s a good bit of science and associated work being done there.

        • got the info from here:


          But also know a guy who got his doctorate in meteorology from there also.

          • Thanks! I know there is a lot of biotech work being done in the south, as well as lots of biotech companies. That could well be why Bishop went there. I still think she may not have had stellar references, based on what we know about her career at Harvard.

        • Here’s a little info on MSFC and one of the guys worked there:

          The Marshall Center’s first major program was the development of Saturn rockets to carry heavy payloads into and beyond Earth orbit. From this, the Apollo program for manned moon flights was developed. Wernher von Braun initially pushed for a flight engineering concept that called for an Earth orbit rendezvous technique (the approach he had argued for building his space station), but in 1962 he converted to the more risky lunar orbit rendezvous concept that was subsequently realized.[51] His dream to help mankind set foot on the Moon became a reality on July 16, 1969 when a Marshall-developed Saturn V rocket launched the crew of Apollo 11 on its historic eight-day mission. Over the course of the program, Saturn V rockets enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the surface of the Moon.

          During the late 1960s, von Braun played an instrumental role in the development of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. The desk from which he guided America’s entry in the Space Race remains on display there.

          Here’s a list of areas where UAH does research:


    • I am a “faculty brat” and have spent my entire life in university environments so I can attest to the fact that academia can be a “twisted place”. People with psychological problems can go far even though they are a little “odd” to say the least. It is tolerated.
      “Faculty brats” have their own set of problems. I know of a half dozen of them – kids I grew up with – who committed suicide at early ages. One of them was only eleven years old when he jumped off the roof of a building on campus.

      • My dad was a college prof too, and I have worked in universities all my life. I teach at one right now. I don’t know what Amy’s dad did though.

    • Chimera,

      I added an update to the post.

    • You make some very good points. But I think her type shouts a level of both self-importance as well as a complete victim mentality. She was unlikeable and possibly incompetant, and yet she felt she “deserved” tenure. This is the problem with Universities in the first place-tenure. Can you imagine what kind of monster she would have been had they given it to her?

      Her rabid love of President Obama might also indicate a belief that he would “gift her” in some way. I have seen this before, from those who felt their vote would mean they would never have a house or car payment again, to those who seek what they call “Obama’s money” from his “Stash”. This is in line with a person who feels that they deserve everything, regardless of the situation.

      Her actions with firing a shotgun several times are unbelievable. Who would keep holding a shotgun after it accidentally discharged in your home? Or then shoot your brother, then run down to an auto dealership (also firing the gun again) and then threatening an employee.

      • I disagree about tenure. It’s a cornerstone of intellectual freedom in the university. There are other ways to deal with ‘monsters’ than robbing professors of their freedom to pursue possibly unpopular lines of inquiry.

        • The tenure system is essential, IMO. Otherwise no one could do any original or offbeat research. It is essential for academic freedom.

          • The tenure system does also get abused.
            I have seen people’s careers ruined by
            tenure denials, and then as if that weren’t enough, colleagues treat
            them as pariahs. I know our dept gave tenure to a person who was
            worthy academically but was a “poison” person. Fortunately she
            left. Tenure is a bizarre system, where you can devote your entire
            life to one pursuit and then a review board of people can say you
            aren’t good enough to work here forever, and you are done.

            Still, although tenure denial may have been terrible, murdering
            people is more terrible.

          • Absolutely. There is no excuse for murder. None. I’m glad I’m too old to be interested in the tenure track.

  8. So, my headline would have been:

    B0bot in rampage shooting, previous violence went unpunished.

    I think there is not enough evidence to imply racism in the target of her shootings. If it were, it would lend to an interesting textbook case of people trying to get “street creds they are not racist” by supporting Obama (quoting a B0bot put down).
    But I agree that the “socialist” accusation seems absurd.
    I too would like to know more about her obsessive support for Obama and how was it off putting (mainly – if it was any different from your garden variety B0bot we all ran into)

    • We don’t know that she was a “B0bot” either.

      • I hate stories like this because the way they are reported just encourages bad, illogical thinking all around. I don’t like a think about Obama but even if she was OFB, that doesn’t mean causation. There’s much more evidence from what little we do know that she already had emotional challenges and distress and becoming an obot (if even true) would be a symptom, not a cause.

        Just as if even if she IS a commie-socialist-radical-whatever, that would have little to do with her actions. That’s just ridiculous.

        As well, I understand both sides of the gun-ownership debate are trying to make something of this.

        As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data. I hate that kind of sloppy thinking, it just leads to bad results. Thanks for being so careful in your analysis, bboomer.

  9. I’m fascinated by this story too, but then I’m a crime junkie. You mentioned she was obsessed with Obama and I took that to mean that she was an adoring fan. Is that the case or was she anti-Obama?

    As soon as I read that she’d shot her brother, my thoughts took off in the same direction yours did. It’s amazing she kept her violent anger under control for so long. It’s really a shame her brother’s death was swept under the rug because if she’d received treatment, her latest victims might have been spared.

  10. I seem to be confusing Amy Bishop with Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita. Maybe these two people named Amy are just plain crazy!

  11. Reminds me of Dr. Dorothy Lewis’ studies on brain damage and criminality. Definitely sounds like homegirl was dropped on her head at some point.

    Thanks for the article. Lots of details I hadn’t heard on this fascinating, tragic story. I hate to think of what the Bishop children have gone through up to this point. The nightmare continues for them, bless their hearts.

  12. I think that Bishop’s behavior doesn’t necessarily mean she was in a dissociative state, but rather a level of sociopathy. Pair that with much of the hatred of those as she sees as less then she (namely a Jewish member of the faculty, as well as many members of color). This of course is odd, considering her rabid adoration of President Obama. Perhaps she thought he was a Leftist of equal intelligence?
    The fact that she smirked to her colleagues about being questioned about the bombings leads me to believe she thought she was smarter than anyone; this is a hallmark of a sociopath.
    The fact that her mother worked for the Police dept seems to have gotten her off on what might be considered a “victimless crime” (it wasn’t but some would say that putting away the crazy daughter would leave the family with no children).
    What you have here is an example of “protecting their own” be it a Liberal Democrat or son/daughter of a member of some police depts.

    • She could be a sociopath, but that wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of dissociation. It’s clear that she dissociated based on her statement on being arrested and her asking her husband to pick her up as if nothing had happened.

      And we have no evidence that Bishop is racist. She seems to have thought she was better than everyone–regardless of race.

      • “It’s clear that she dissociated based on her statement on being arrested and her asking her husband to pick her up as if nothing had happened.”

        Or she was just lying and conniving. She’s a pretty clever woman, obviously.

  13. Thanks bb, for putting all the details on this story together in one place. It’s a fascinating how we learn about these histories going backward in time as if we are going deeper into the madness, when really the madness compounded and expanded from some point in the past–in Bishop’s case that point seems to be at least from the time she shot her brother, though there may have been some trauma or incidents before that.

    • Agreed, great post.

      I went to high school with two girls who knew each other, but weren’t “friends”. One New Year’s Eve a neighborhood party ended with one neighbor getting angry, going home to get his rifle and returning to the party. He killed three people, one of which was the mother of one of the girls. The shooter was the brother of the other.

      We learned that the shooter had killed his brother when he was just 8 years old in a hunting accident.

      Is it a case of losing one’s conscience, or did they ever even have one?

      • Oh my God!

        It could also be the guilt that comes from doing something like that and then having everyone cover it up and never talk about it. Bishop’s family doesn’t sound particularly supportive.

        • Very hard for me to grasp. I would hope that if I accidentally killed someone that it would make me more sensitive to people rather than put up a shell against caring.

          • I honestly don’t know how someone could survive the horror of killing a sibling. But I don’t think Amy shooting Seth was an accident, do you?

  14. Thanks for the research. I will continue to follow.

  15. The Clairvoyance of Chris Dodd:

    President Obama will be “re-elected overwhelmingly,” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) confidently predicted today.

    Appeaing on Imus in the Morning, Dodd rejected a comparison between Obama and Jimmy Carter and said Obama will be more political successful.

    “No, no, no. You’re wrong on that,” Dodd told Imus of the Carter comparison. “That’s a mark we’ll put it down. This man will be reelected and reelected overwhelmingly.”

  16. I always like to check with the findings of FBI profilers (those people really know their stuff) I found this:


    Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI agent and private criminal profiler based in Fredericksburg, Va., said there is no typical outline of a mass shooter but noted they often share a sense of paranoia, depression or a feeling that they are not appreciated.

    • Here is what James Fox, an expert on murder and murderers and also a tenured professor, had to say about this case:

      There is, however, very little about the Huntsville killings that resembles the tragedies at Virginia Tech and elsewhere, except for the mere fact that the setting happened to be a college campus. Friday’s armed assault during a late-afternoon faculty meeting was nothing like an active shooter episode, but was very much like workplace murder.

      According to reports, Amy Bishop, an assistant professor of biology who was upset over a denial of tenure, showed up at the faculty conference armed with a 9-millimeter handgun. After sitting quietly in the meeting for a short period of time, she purportedly stood and started suddenly blasting away at her stunned colleagues—human targets who may have been implicated, at least in her mind, in her failed tenure bid.

      If Bishop is indeed like other workplace avengers—generally middle-aged employees (and former employees) who consider failure as absolutely catastrophic—this would not have been a random act by someone who suddenly snapped and went berserk, but a methodical attempt to punish selectively those deemed to be responsible for an injustice. These cases typically involve a perpetrator who acts with cool and considered deliberation, who sees the final affront as a one-way ticket to nowhere, and chooses to execute those accountable for the intolerable and unfair outcome.

      He goes on to discuss the tenure process and how it can involve bias and personalities.

      • This explanation is exactly what I think is the basis for the crime.

      • My only question about this theory is didn’t she shoot someone that supported her?

        • People who think that “everyone” is against them often don’t believe claims to the contrary.

        • He was the head of the department that she blamed for her situation though. But you can’t really apply logic to something like this–let’s face it, she is a sick person.

  17. “there is no typical outline of a mass shooter but ”
    The #1 characteristic of a mass shooter is that they are overwhelming male…I think that is what keeps this story in the news.

    • There are plenty more interesting aspects about this case than that. She doesn’t qualify as a “mass shooter,” according to James Fox. She targeted specific people whom she felt had been unfair to her–not random individuals.

      I sounds like they were unfair too. Unfortunately for them, they were unfair to someone with a serious psychological disorder of some kind.

      • Well from a profiler’s perspective there are three main multiple victim killer categories:

        Spree killers: murders multiple victims in various locations within a short span of time

        Mass killers: murders multiple victims in one location at a single event

        Serial killers: more complex, murders multiple victims, timing is relative to triggering events, can be widely spaced or increasing close-time, has basic “signature” crime MO.

        She would fall under the “Mass killer” category. The question would be whether the victims were random or targeted (which gets into the questions about motive).

        • Did you read James Fox’s article? He is also an expert on profiling, serial killers, etc. I think it’s more useful than the classification scheme, because he deals with the specific issues involved in this case. Obviously the victims were not random.

          • Yes. He also classifies it as a “mass shooting.” His article is more about “motive” from the victim profile standpoint. Have you ever read the book “Anatomy of Motive” by John Douglass? It breaks this down well.

            BTW, I’ve did some research years ago on the postal shootings and there are interesting parallels that may apply. Some of the postal incidents were the result of people finding the most psychologically vulnerable and then mental finger-poking them until they snapped. Many were disciplined heavily and felt persecuted and the bullying just compounded the problem.

            It’s a perfect storm. Mental instability, workplace bullying, and a sense of deprivation of justice.

          • For millions of Americans, last Friday’s mass shooting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, in which three faculty members were killed and two others and one staff member were injured, has conjured up frightful memories of massacres at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.

            It looks like he’s distinguishing motive as a classification of “workplace avenger.”

          • Yes, I have read that book and many others on the subject, thanks.

          • Well I guess I don’t see any conflict between what Fox is saying and what I’m saying. Maybe I’m missing something.

          • I guess I should say that I sometimes find these FBI profilers a bit simplistic. You would surely have to admit that a woman doesn’t fit the typical profile. Anyway, I’m a lot more interested in Bishop’s psychology than her specific motives. I think based on her history, she was probably carrying around a lot of rage, and that she acted it out–for at least the third time in her life.

            And now she will very likely end up on death row.

          • Ah…John Douglass is my idol. I’ve read all of his books and met him in person. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I drool over his abilities.

          • I don’t know if you are missing anything, SoD. It’s just that we are apparently interested in different aspects of this case. I’m interested in the specific person involved, and you are interested in the classification of the crime. There is no disagreement–just a difference in what we are interested in.

            I was interested in Fox’s reaction based on his knowledge of the tenure process as well as his knowledge about crime and criminals. He did try to distinguish Bishop’s behavior from that of other mass killers, but I’m just not that focused on the classification system per se.

          • I’m sure James Douglass is brilliant, but again I’m interested in the personality, not the classification of the crime. It’s just a difference in interest and focus. Why is that a problem?

          • No problem. There was a comment above that said Fox didn’t consider her a “mass killer.” I was merely responding to that since Fox referred to it as a “mass shooting”. For some reason it took a protracted turn. I wasn’t commenting about the psychology at all.

          • I thought that Fox was trying to distinguish workplace shootings from the mass killings at Virginia Tech and other such mass murders. I thought the distinction he was making was that Bishop had a specific grievance and acted it out on specific people. It looks like I tried to take a little shortcut in trying to point that out to SHV.

            Where I got confused was that there was so much more in Fox’s article than that, and I didn’t want to get stuck on the notion of a general classification system. My chosen fields are development and personality, so naturally that is the way I tend to look at situations like this. I’m interested in people.

            Anyway, I’m sorry.

        • More from the James Fox piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

          Unlike many Americans who may interpret employment-related failures as an indication of their own inadequacies, workplace avengers typically externalize blame. Their failures and disappointments, they believe, reflect nothing more than mistreatment by others who, perhaps undeservedly, hold unbridled power over their fate. Might Professor Bishop, as a noted scholar with an Ivy League pedigree, have questioned the legitimacy of the tenure process or those who were in the position to judge her record of achievement?

          With reports of Bishop’s quirky demeanor and social awkwardness, it would be all too easy to dismiss this violent episode as just some “nut” who couldn’t handle the pressure of publish or perish. Indeed, that seems to be the prevailing view of the hundreds who have posted online comments in the days since the shooting. But to define this tragedy as just a case of psychopathology would discourage a closer look at contributing forces.

          Rather than dismiss the killings as just another act of insanity or treating it as fodder for escalating the debate over concealed weapons on campuses or for justifying tighter security measures, let it serve as a vehicle for evaluating the antiquated tenure process of modern-day academe. I am not suggesting a referendum on the role and purpose of tenure but consideration of how the process could be enhanced to reduce the risk of violence and other less extreme but still undesirable responses to negative outcomes. That should include appropriate support systems and mentor programs during the uniquely awkward terminal contract year following tenure denial.

          • BB, I hope you post again on this – I’m interested in the personality disorder angle, and hope you write more when more info comes to light.

  18. Photos of the victims in this story:


    “Killed were Gopi K. Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and professors Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis. Joseph Leahy and staffer Stephanie Monticciolo were in critical condition early Sunday. Luis Cruz-Vera was released from the hospital.”

  19. Great piece, bb. Like others here, I have been fascinated by this story. Also, I am a gun control advocate, so it’s not as though the story doesn’t have some political implications. For example, I thought it fascinating that Bishop didn’t have a permit for her gun. Was it her gun? Or was it her husband’s gun? A law-abiding citizen shouldn’t have difficulty in most states obtaining a gun permit, so why not choose to own the gun legally? Lots of questions.

    The first instance of crime–where she killed her brother and then fled with the shotgun–sounds like an instance of disassociative fugue. But the more recent instance of killing her colleagues seems better explained by the “novel” on her computer. If she saw her life script evaporating (about making amends for the death of her brother) in the absence of tenure, and her whole life was about living that fantasy, it could easily have put her over the edge to find out that she would not be receiving tenure. Sounds to me like she was simply an egomaniac who thought that whatever methods were needed to achieve her goals were okay as long as she ended up being the “great scientist” of her fantasies. Also sounds as though, somehow, her husband had bought into those fantasies, too.

    • Great points, grayslady!

      The husband claims he didn’t know she had a gun, but I don’t think he is a very trustworthy source.

      • No kidding! How trustworthy is a guy who seems to be implicated in the bombing threat to her former professor?

        From her parents to her husband, it sounds as though Bishop has always sought out people who would help her rationalize her shortcomings rather than helping her to address them.

        • How strange is it that he was dating Amy when she shot her own brother, and he still married her and had four kids with her?

  20. Ok, here’s my guess. Personality disorder. Paranoid personality disorder? She’s a victim of persecution. Her brother was the enemy. Her parents favored him and didn’t show her the kind of affection and attention she needed. Everything was Seth’s fault. Of couse, afterwards, it was an accident. She wasn’t to blame. Well, who wouldn’t believe that? Why would anyone shoot her brother on purpose? And maybe it was an accident or wish fulfillment.
    Paul Rosenberg became the enemy during her postdoctoral. If it weren’t for him out to get her, her life would be fine and her career assured. He was deliberately targetting her. Who could blame her for trying to get rid of him?
    Same thing with her UAH colleagues. They were all against her. They plotted to make her look bad. They argued with her over everything. If it weren’t for them, shed have tenure. If they’re shot, they got what they deserved. But why should that have anything to do with her?
    I know a person like this. When he decides you are the enemy, anything you do, positive or negative, is interpreted as an act of war. He can’t perceive people or intentions as they really are. There are always people conspiring to bring him down and he is never to blame.
    I feel sorry for Bishop’s husband. He’s probably been entirely too understanding. She’s probably brilliant but difficult.
    Now, Robert Oppenheimer poisoned one of his profs who he didn’t like when he was in college. But his parents talked the administrators out of expelling him. His career suffered not a whit and years later, someone put him in charge of the Manhattan Project where he became Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds.
    Go figure.

    • Great points, RD. I do suspect a personality disorder. I need more information though. To me it sounds like her parents are very dysfunctional, and they may have been abusive, we can’t know yet. I think it’s very weird that they haven’t spoken up for her in the media or even shown up in Alabama.

      If you read the state police report, you can see that the parents came across as pretty detached–especially the dad. Why did he leave the guns and ammo lying around anyway? My guess would be that the younger brother was favored over her and she hated him for it. The one acquaintance of Seth’s who came forward said she hardly acknowledged his existence.

      I didn’t know that about Oppenheimer. How fascinating and horrifying!

      • Yep, turned out that he was all brain but clumsy fingers in the lab. I guess his grades reflected that so he created a poison apple and delivered it to the prof. It turns out that it wasn’t actually consumed but it must have been coated with something really deadly because the administration was going to throw him out. His parents intervened and they let him stay but he had to undergo sessions with a psychiatrist.
        He might have gotten away with it too if he hadn’t underestimated his teacher. It would be easy to accidentally poison yourself by failing to wash your hands before eating the apple. Or taking it into the lab itself and letting it get contaminated with aminonitrile or something. It could happen- to undergrads. I think most professionals are like old mushroom hunters. Anyway, it seems like the poison was obvious so Oppenheimer was not a very discreet angry undergrad.
        Malcolm Gladwell covers this incident in Outliers. Oppenheimer was very lucky that his parents knew how to advocate for him. In most cases, the student is SOL no matter how smart they are.

        • Wow, great story.

        • I’ve heard that story and it makes me wonder who the he’ll would agree to teach or advise him after that. Everybody would be vying for that plum assignment.

          Very very interesting, bb. Thanks.

    • My mother has PPD. It is extremely hard to deal with, so much so that I have made the choice to no longer have any contact with her…. it goes without saying that I had a very difficult childhood. 😦

      • I feel your pain. Lived with one for years. If you’ve never experienced one, it’s hard to describe how bad it can be. It’s like being beseiged. All. The. Time. There’s never any rest. And you can never say anything right. Every word is scrutinzed for hidden meaning. I got tired of arguing about the color of the sky.

  21. Sad. Too easy to get guns. Too hard to get mental-health care.

  22. I just checked in and read your post bb, so have not read the comments above. But what struck me in sort of an off-key way was the fact that this science dept. in a major southern university seems to have quite a bit of ethnic diversity. Somehow I was a little surprised at that and I guess it speaks to some bias I have.

    But I find it so tragic that both of our political extremities seem to have people on their outer margins who resort to violence. I don’t know if this woman falls into that category but there must be a huge field of research on this ancient reality.

    • I think there tends to be a lot more diversity in the South, as Afrocity said above.

      • I just noted that comment of Afrrocity and it makes sense even tho’ my mental model I guess has been that the bias in the south would be for caucasians in top academic posts, heads of department etc. Sigh, another adjustment for my head.

  23. OT: Evan Bayh not running for Senate re-election. I know he is a moderate/Blue Dog type but I went to college with his father and really liked him and Evan. I know he was a huge supporter of HRC. So I am sad.

  24. OT: Bayh was apparently running 20 points ahead of his Repub. challenger, Coats. Only Dem challenger is a gal from IU campus area who runs a little shop and still does not have enough signatures to qualify on the ballot. So Dems not having a candidate but can select one in a caucus procedure. But bottom line, likely IN becomes a R pick-up.

    • According to my Mom (who lives in Indiana), Bayh is really unpopular in Indiana right now. She said that even Mike Pence led Bayh in poll matchups. But Bayh may be thinking of running against Obama for the nomination in 2012–not that he has a chance in hell of winning.

      I loved Birch Bayh. He was a real FDR Democrat. Evan may be a nice guy, but politically he’s not at all like his dad.

  25. Amy Bishop and her husband went to the shooting range in the weeks before her rampage, according to the AP. Husband still claims he doesn’t know where she got the gun.


    • I can’t believe that someone that accidentally killed her brother (assuming that it what happened) would ever touch a gun again. This case is so horrible. Of course, I feel for the victims and their families, but the Anderson children 18-8 must be living a nightmare.

      • (nodding emphatically)

      • That is my worry. And WHERE are their grandparents? There is something very wrong with their not being there with their daughter and their grandchildren. That bothers me more than anything. After all they are the ones who kept Amy out of jail in the first place.

  26. I am most interested in the missing case files from the braintree pd, that’s your movie right there. Obviously a smart move not to grant this individual tenure but sadly no way to know just who they were dealing with but someone knew maybe lots of someones ; mom dad husband A few police fficers….

    • It wasn’t the police officers. They were angry about it. Mom worked for the town, and the someone must have known the DA–he is the one that made the decision. He is now in the House of Representatives.

  27. It is looking ever more likely that this woman had some kind of psychotic break. One of her students said it was so unbelievable—that she cracked jokes, was upbeat. Does not sound like the person we read about or see in those photos. I would expect a not guilty by reason of mental defect defense. Seems really bizarre. The fallout for all these families is devastating.

    • That is why I speculated about dissociation. Her behavior is classic. She was apparently able to completely detach from her feelings–that is dissociation.

  28. Nothing like a “Narcissistic Injury” to make a day go very badly.
    That is what I thought when I heard of the story.

    • Yes, but she clearly was qualified to get tenure.

      • Based on some articles I read last night, I’ve changed my mind. I not think there are some very good reasons why Bishop didn’t get tenure.

  29. More weirdness from former neighbors of Amy and James:

    The accounts of longtime neighborhood residents, combined with a stack of police reports provided to the Globe by the Ipswich Police Department, paint a picture of conflict between the Bishop/Anderson family and others in town.
    Bishop, who was referred to as Amy Anderson at the time, called 911 regularly during her short time living in this North Shore community. She reported several neighborhood kids to the police for “disturbing the peace” by riding their dirt bikes and motorized scooters in the neighborhood after school. Police repeatedly informed her and her husband that kids are allowed to ride their bikes and scooters during the afternoon hours, especially on their own property.

    Bishop called police at least five times about neighborhood children making noise after they got home from school. On July 3, 2001, she complained that the noise from motorized scooters and motor bikes was bothering her. On April 12, 2002, she complained that children were riding dirt bikes in the woods around the neighborhood. On April 27, 2003, she called police again about kids riding bikes in the neighborhood.

    On June 25, 2000, during another complaint about kids making noise, Bishop reportedly told police that her dispute with one of the children’s parents may “come to blows.”

    • Bishop once stopped a local ice cream truck from coming into their neighborhood. According to WBZ-1030 radio, she said it because her own kids were lactose intolerant, and she didn’t think it was fair that her kids couldn’t have ice cream.

    • I bet those parents are VERY thankful now that it DIDN’T come to “blows”…

      BB, this was a great post. Thank you very much for putting all this info together for us. I read the post when I was at my parent’s house today but, was just too busy to write a decent comment.

      I did have my mom read it though (she is interested in the story) she read it twice & went to bed. That’s a sign that it was pretty effective. Don’t you think?

      • Thanks for telling me that, Katiebird. I learned a lot more yesterday and will try to post an update later today.

  30. BB, very thoughtful post. I, too, have been interested in this story. I wonder often about people with personality disorders who genuinely “know” that they are right, that everyone else has a problem, and the frustration they must feel, the isolation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing this type of behavior, especially murder. But, the conflict they feel may be part of what drives some to violence. Of course, sociopathy is something different. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts and other news about this woman.

  31. I’m not the only one around here who is obsessed with this story:

    The biggest Boston story in 20 years

    The strange case of Amy Bishop is rapidly morphing into the biggest Boston news story in many years — the biggest, perhaps, since 20 years ago, when Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife, Carol, and jumped to his death as authorities were closing in.

    • Very good article, bb!

      I think your post, and the terrific comments, are zeroing in on the academic and familial forces that may have been involved here. As a former UAH student and long-time (transplanted) Huntsville resident I would, though, encourage you to separate this crime from it’s location for a moment. See if you can put a Portland address on this and come to the same conclusions.

      Carl Sagan was even confused by this place, where you’ll meet someone with a cotton field out back and a rocket motor out front. Heck, my wife wrote the scheduling software for the International Space Station. I’m a carpenter that also designs medical databases. It’s a lot closer to Northern Exposure than Hee-Haw. It’s a very crossroads city, with a casual diversity applauded by almost all visitors.

      School/Program – A step up from almost anywhere, one of the best in the world. http://www.hudsonalpha.org/

      One observation on race: it’s very common to see Northern liberals move here, all ready to show everyone how the world can be so much better after we’re ‘enlightened’, and then get EXTREMELY frustrated with the collective “um, really don’t need any rescuing here, thanks just the same.” Everything I’ve read so far about Dr. Bishop fits that mold, including (rumor) a petition from her students complaining that her grading was arbitrary and politically linked.

      I’m sorry for the travelogue, but there didn’t seem to be any locals chiming in.

      • Personally, I would tend to take any accusations of politically motivated grading with a grain of salt. They happen a lot, especially against female professors, and a lot of times they’re completely specious. The Obama Generation: Our Work Ethic Is Low, Our Resentments Are High. Anyway, it shouldn’t be hard to Suss out if her grading’s arbitrary one way or the other in science.

      • What’s location got to do with anything? Weren’t the victims from somewhere else besides Alabama too?

      • Jeff,

        Thanks for your comment. I don’t recall saying anything about the place affecting the events. In fact my interest was triggered more by Amy being from my neck of the woods. This is a huge story in Boston now. In my opinion, race likely had nothing to do with this, but if you have any more information about the complaints, I’d like to hear about it.

      • Sorry, I was unclear. I was hoping to show that her frustrations could have come from her expectations of this school and area.

        On your original post you said “On the other hand, why did she end up at UAH in the first place when she had such outstanding qualifications?” In her field, UAH is an extremely plum appointment and she would have been excited to get it. But she would have had to explain that to every Academic that asked “Seriously? Alabama?” Most of the faculty at UAH is used to it and laughs it off, but many have told me it is still frustrating.

        Also, UAH is a pretty tough place for anyone with even moderately radical impulses. “University At Home, where Apathy is our Middle Name.” It started as an engineering graduate extension to support the rocket programs, and was fleshed out into a four-year in the Seventies. One of the early Homecoming bonfires had eleven people.

        Having been transplanted from the Northeast myself I know the only choices you have are to enjoy the surprise normalcy, or to try to force reality INTO your expectations.

  32. I can see the dissociative aspect to it all, but i don’t believe the “fugue” aspect is accurate. In a dissociative fugue, by definition, the person wanders off somewhere else, no longer remembering what happened, feeling very confused. They generally don’t remember their previous identity or even where they had just come from, so they often “become” a new identity so that they can move on and have a life.

    If she has dissociation going on, I’d guess it’s more like DID (dissociative identity disorder), maybe of the repetitive kind.

    One thing I noticed, though, is that her oldest son had become the same age that her brother was when she killed him. Might have pushed those old memories back into the foreground, or even just up into the subconscious, and played a part in the trigger and chain of reactions…..

    • That’s true, I shouldn’t have mentioned fugue. But it seems clear she was dissociating during the recent events. Dissociation doesn’t have to go as far as DID though. Good point about the oldest child–I never thought of that.

  33. Just to clarify; she has 3 older daughters (so the 18 year old is a daughter) and the 8 year old is a boy. Big gap in ages (3rd grade to 9th grade). My son is friends with him, but I do not know the girls.

    I have insight into her behavior towards the boy, but hesitate to disclose it as it would in part violate his privacy. But knowing the history of the brother (whether accident or not and I don’t think it was), some things certainly make sense now.

    I feel for the children so much – especially the young boy. The others are older, but the boy is virtually a baby!

    Trust me – more will be coming out and I wouldn’t be surprised if the husband is ultimately charged with something. If nothing else, it appears he knew she had an unlicensed gun in her possession, however brief. I think the logical questions of ANY spouse (regardless of the brother killing) is “why the sudden interest,” “where’d you get the gun” and “do you have a permit for that?” Plus his story has changed – first he didn’t know she had a gun, but now he says he did.

    She was way more concerned (and in denial / delusional) about the tenure denial vs. the invention issue.

    • I think Bishop and Anderson’s relationship sounds very weird. The husband would have had to be involved in the bombing incident, and I think he’s involved in this incident too. His story is all over the place.

      The children are my big concern also. Do you know anything about why Amy’s parents aren’t there with them?

      Thank you very much for commenting!

  34. Funny how the liberal “intelligentsia” keep talking here about how the Reps and conservatives are trying to make this into a political football, yadda yadda yadda.

    Funny, every time someone on the conservative side screws up, the liberal media takes it and runs with it like there was no end….

    She’s a whack job period. The fact that she’s a liberal zealot whack job only proves a few more things that I won’t get into here.

    Regardless of partisanship or loyalty, she needs to be executed asap. No reason to keep this animal alive and sitting in a cell for the rest of her life for me to pay for.

    She did it, we all know she did it, there are witnesses – no trial, no judge, no jury. Just put her in the electric chair and pull that switch fellas!

    • Does “JD” stand for “just dumb?”

    • I still haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that Bishop is “a liberal zealot.” How about providing some proof for your claims? Until you do, they are baseless.

      • Also, we are not the “liberal media” if there is such a thing. If you had ever read this blog, you’d know we are extremely critical of Obama and the Dems in Congress.

  35. I live about 5 minutes away from where this occured. I am a transplanted Michigander and have lived here for 13 years. I don’t move in academia circles but I have been fascinated and following this story. Couple things; just earlier today I was wondering how she managed to hit 6 targets so quickly, if she’d been inexperienced with guns. Not 10 minutes later I read the article of her husband talking about the shooting range incident. I’m not sure where, as I’ve been reading much about this, but I seen something that led me to wonder if she wasn’t doing some hideous research on her children. She had listed 2 or 3 of her children as co-authors or co-somethings on some papers she was trying to submit to help her obtain tenure. I’ll see if I can relocate that information…I also came across this, very interesting if indeed it is a true eyewitness account…


  36. Really good, comprehensive post, bostonboomer. Was also very interested in this case and look forward to your updates. Great comments too.

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