Inquest Reexamines 'Accidental' Death of Seth Bishop

Massachusetts inquest will look at circumstances of 18-year-old's shooting.

April 12, 2010— -- Authorities in Massachusetts will begin this week taking a second look at the 1986 death of the brother of Amy Bishop, the scientist accused of killing three of her colleagues in a shooting rampage at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in February.

Norfolk County District Attorney William R. Keating had ordered an inquest into the death of Seth Bishop, who was 18 when his older sister admitted to shooting him accidentally in their Braintree home.

The inquest, a closed-door hearing that is invoked under Massachusetts law in cases of suspicious deaths, is to begin Tuesday and expected to run until Friday.

Keating has said the DA's office found "gaps in reports" and "contradictory witness statements" and "questions of criminality" that prompted them to call for an inquest.

David Traub, spokesman for the Norfolk D.A.'s office, said prosecutors made the decision to order an inquest one week after Bishop's arrest on the day of the Feb. 12 incident.

"An inquest is not an accusatory proceeding, it is not a trial," Traub said. "We are trying to get to the circumstances of the death."

Quincy District Court Judge Mark S. Coven will gather facts to determine the "material circumstances attending the death" and whether an "unlawful act or negligence" of someone else contributed to it.

Coven is expected to call numerous witnesses and question them under oath, including Bishop's parents and Braintree police officers who responded to the scene of the 1986 shooting.

"There is a strong likelihood that the public will be able to review the information," said Keating at a press conference several months ago.

The inquest report will be submitted to the district attorney, who has the option of presenting the case to a grand jury for indictment.

Suspicions ran high after Bishop was arrested for allegedly shooting six of her colleagues at a faculty meeting on the Huntsville campus Feb. 12. A gag order has been issued in the Alabama murder case.

Massachusetts authorities discovered the death of Bishop's brother, who died Dec. 6, 1986. Then 22 and a student at Northeastern University, Amy Bishop was set free by police the same day.

According to news reports at the time, Bishop told police she was learning how to unload a shotgun when it went off and killed her brother.

It was later revealed that Bishop shot her brother with a 12-gauge shotgun during an argument with her father, then fled on foot. Police later handcuffed Bishop and took her to the station.

After that, the case file disappeared, according to Braintree Police Chief Paul Frazier, who was a patrolman at the time of the incident, but did not respond to the home after the shooting.

''I don't want to use the word 'cover-up,''' Frazier told the Boston Globe. ''I don't know what the thought process was of the police chief at the time.''

At first, former Braintree police chief John Polio, now 87, defended the handling of the shooting of Seth Bishop. He said Bishop wasn't immediately questioned because she was too emotional.

Local and state police questioned Bishop and her parents individually 11 days after the shooting.

According to the investigation report, Bishop argued with her father, who left on a shopping trip. She returned to her room and decided to teach herself to load the shotgun her family had bought for protection after a break-in.

Bishop Has a History of Confrontations

She told police the gun fired in the bedroom when she couldn't remove the shells. Going downstairs looking for help, the gun went off and she inadvertently shot her brother, according to the report.

After her arrest in Alabama, the Boston media ran numerous stories that Bishop, a mother of four, had an array of earlier confrontations with people that could suggest a violent temperament.

Bishop screamed and cursed at children, instigating arguments with their parents, according to former neighbors who painted a portrait of an angry woman.

Former Massachusetts neighbors described the brilliant scientist as a woman who 15 years ago had "face-to-face, nose-to-nose confrontations" over evening basketball games, skateboarders and even whether an ice cream truck would be allowed on the child-friendly street.

"She picked fights with them," said one neighbor, who did not want to be identified because Bishop's children return summers to visit their grandparents -- Judy and Samuel Bishop -- who still live on Fille Street in quiet Ipswich, Mass.

"I just don't want to alienate them," she told

"The ice cream truck was banished from the street because [Bishop] told them her children were lactose intolerant," the neighbor said. "She even had one of the children's teachers fired."

And in 1993, Bishop and her husband were questioned by police after a pipe bomb was mailed to one of Bishop's colleagues, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Paul Rosenberg.

James Anderson has said that he and his wife were cleared in the mail bomb investigation and were never suspects.

Anderson told ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston that he had no idea why his wife would shoot their co-workers.

"Nobody understands what happened. Nobody knew," he said.

Bishop and her husband, an Alabama native who was raised in New England, met when they were undergraduates at Northeastern University.

They settled in the suburban seaside town of Ipswich, while Bishop worked at Harvard's Children's Hospital in the 1990s.

Sylvia Fluckiger, a lab technician who worked with Bishop then, described her as "an oddball" and "socially a little awkward," according to the Boston Globe. But Dick Reeves, who worked with Bishop in developing her cell incubator research, said there was no clue she might one day be violent.

But among former neighbors, Bishop was cantankerous and not well liked.

Ipswich police logged two calls for neighborhood disputes from Bishop, and in 2002, she reported receiving harassing calls, according to local reports.

Once, neighbors organized a block party and didn't tell Bishop because of conflicts she had with people.

"We never had any issue with them directly," said the grandmother who knew the family. "But it was very uncomfortable with the other neighbors. Amy was not friendly. The high school kids at the time were very in to sports and they'd come out and play from 8:30 to 10 at night. The noise was bothersome to her."

Their father worked from home and did most of the child rearing, according to the source. Bishop, she said, had mentioned an interest in homeschooling the children.

"He was quite pleasant," she said. "But I think she was the leading force in the family."

The children, then aged 1 to about 6, were "kind of meek," but well-behaved, she said.