Feb. 16, 2010 — -- Colleagues are touting a University of Alabama in Huntsville biochemistry professor with heroicallly saving lives during last week's campus shooting rampage.
"I believe that she acted very quickly to try and stop Dr. Bishop from shooting again," University of Alabama Huntsville president David Williams told "Good Morning America" today, adding that professor Debra Moriarity had asked him not to talk too much about her role in stopping Amy Bishop's alleged rampage that killed three and wounded three others. "It's just unbelievable that someone could act that way in such terrible circumstances."
Moriarity, 55, is a professor whose lab was next door to Bishop's lab. She was also believed to be Bishop's closest friend in the department.
In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Moriarity gave a moment by moment account of how a departmental meeting was turned into a slaughterhouse.
The shooting erupted about an hour into the meeting when a dozen people were sitting at a round table. Moriarity was looking at some papers when Bishop stood and fired a shot at the person closest to her. When she looked up, the chairman of the department Gopi K. Podila had been shot in the head and Bishop was firing a second round at the person sitting next to Podila, Adriel D. Johnson Sr., Moriarity said.
Bishop was going down the line, shooting each person in the head, although the sixth person was shot in the chest, she told the magazine.
Moriarity and others who were sitting on the side of the table furthest from Bishop "dropped to the floor," according to survivor Joseph Ng, who described the incident to a friend in an e-mail.
Moriarity said crawled across the floor under the table to Bishop. "I was thinking 'Oh, my God, this has to stop," she said.
The professor said she pulled and then pushed on Bishop's leg, yelling, "I have helped you before, I can help you again!"
Bishop pulled her leg away from Moriarity's grip and kept shooting, she said. Moriarity crawled past Bishop and partly into the hallway when she said Bishop turned towards her friend, the gun gripped with both hands and a look of fury on her face.
"Intense eyes, a set jaw," Moriarity told the Chronicle. As Moriarity, still on her hands and knees, looked up helplessly at her one-time friend, Bishop pulled the trigger. Click. She fired again. Click.
As Bishop stopped to reload, Moriarity and the others pushed Bishop out of the room and quickly barricaded the door with a table so Bishop couldn't reenter the room and resume shooting.
"Moriarity was probably the one that saved our lives. She was the one that initiated the rush," Ng told the Associated Press. "It took a lot of guts to just go up to her."
"There was a time when I didn't think I'd come out of the room alive," he said. "I don't think any of us thought we'd come out alive."
"We're very proud of Debra and hope we can work with her to bring her back to the classroom and her position as soon as possible," Williams said.
Williams said the school continues to struggle in the aftermath of Friday's shooting and is planning a memorial service for the three slain faculty members on Friday.
Question linger over how Bishop was hired despite a questionable background.
Bishop was faulted, but never charged in her brother's 1986 shooting death and was questioned, and again never charged, in a 1993 attempted mail bombing of a Harvard professor. Those crimes have come under fresh scrutiny as investigators wonder what evidence may have been missed.
One issue that has been raised is whether the investigation into the death of Bishop's brother was influenced by the fact Bishop's mother was a town official at the time.
Retired Police Chief Now Questions Bishop's Shooting of Her Brother
John Polio, the now-retired police chief who ruled the death an accident in 1986, denied Monday there was ever a cover up. But he told the Boston Globe in an interview published today that he now has questions about the quality of the investigation in 1986, partly because he's since seen a report that may have changed his initial ruling that the shooting was an accident.
Polio told the Globe that state police did not interview Bishop or her mother until 11 days after the fatal shooting and that investigators found discrepancies in their stories.
"When I hear everything and I see this report for the first time, if this information was at my hands then, yes, I would have to do a lot of thinking before I made a decision then,'' Polio said.
Store owner Tom Pettigrew told ABC News that Bishop ran into his store shortly after shooting her brother and told him a story about how her husband was after her and she feared for her life.
"I got a shotgun stuck in my chest," he said. "She told me to put my hands up."
Williams told "Good Morning America" that the university had collected three very favorable recommendations for Bishop before they hired her and that all standard hiring practices were followed.
"In fact, we know now that had we done a criminal background check, which is certainly uncommon in academic hiring," he said, "the actions that had been revealed most recently would not have shown up in such a check."
Bishop's husband, James Anderson, told ABC News in a phone interview that his wife was innocent of all the past crimes being circulated in the media and that there was no way to predict she would snap last week.
Before the shootings, he said, his wife had said nothing and he assumed their Friday "date night" was still on.
"She is barely holding up. I am caving in to say the least," Anderson said. "Nobody understands what happened, nobody knows. Can't sit down and talk to her and ask her what happened what went wrong what broke."
Anderson said he had tried to cheer Bishop up after she was denied tenure in the fall, telling her she was beautiful, smart and had an IQ over 160. It was that denial, authorities believe, that may have been the motive for the shooting.
"She was loved and respected by everybody in the scientific community and her students. They all liked her, they all loved her," Anderson told ABC News. "That is the problem, all of these closed things have been brought back up."
Bishop could face the death penalty if convicted in the killings, but Anderson said he still wants her to know "I love her."
Anderson told the Chronicle of Higher Education that his wife had called from jail and said, "I know you guys are obviously in shock," and asked if their four children had done their homework.