BRAINTREE, Mass. — An Alabama university professor accused of shooting three colleagues to death at a faculty meeting this week shot her younger brother dead at their home in the Boston suburbs more than 20 years ago, but records of it are missing, police said Saturday.
Amy Bishop shot her teenage brother in the chest in 1986, Braintree police Chief Paul Frazier said at a news conference. Bishop, who was 19 at the time, fired once at the wall, shot her brother, then fired into the ceiling after they argued, Frazier said.
She fled, pointing the shotgun at a car to try to get it to stop, then was about to point it toward police before an officer took her into custody at gunpoint, Frazier said. But before Bishop could be booked, former police Chief John Polio instructed officers to release her to her mother, who had served on a police personnel board, Frazier said.
“The police officers here were very upset about that,” said Frazier, who was a patrolman at the time and spoke to officers who remembered the incident that day, including one who filed a report on it.
The shooting of the brother, Seth Bishop, an 18-year-old accomplished violinist, was logged that day as a “sudden death” and later considered accidental, but detailed records of the shooting have disappeared, he said.
“The report’s gone, removed from the files,” he said. “Somebody has it. We don’t.”
The police chief said Saturday that he planned to meet with the local district attorney over the possibility of launching a criminal investigation into how the Bishop case was handled.
Polio said Saturday in an interview at his Braintree home that he was astonished at any implication of a coverup. He said he didn’t instruct officers to release Bishop and wasn’t close to her mother, who he said served on the police board years before the shooting.
“(There’s) no coverup, no missing records,” said Polio, now 87. “If they’re missing, they’re missing since I retired.”
A story on the Dec. 6, 1986, shooting in The Patriot Ledger newspaper, of Quincy, quoted Bishop’s mother, Judith Bishop, saying the gun accidentally went off into a bedroom wall when her daughter was trying to teach herself to use it in case the home was burglarized. Amy Bishop then asked her brother to help her unload the gun when it went off again, killing him in front of her, Judith Bishop told the newspaper.
Polio said Saturday that at the time there were questions about whether Amy Bishop intended to kill her brother because of conflicting reports about whether the two had argued or had just been horsing around when the gun was fired.
Polio said Amy Bishop was taken into custody as “a safekeeping thing” to question her but was not arrested. The head of detectives eventually recommended the office of then-District Attorney William Delahunt, now a U.S. congressman, hold an inquiry into the shooting, Polio said.
A March 1987 report by Delahunt’s office determined the cause of death was “accidental discharge of a firearm,” based on interviews with Bishop and her parents. It didn’t mention an argument between Bishop and her brother.
The report by Trooper Brian Howe said Bishop’s “highly emotional state” after the shooting made it impossible to question her. Since her mother had seen the shooting and said it was an accident, police decided to question the family later after everyone calmed down, the report said.
Howe and Braintree police questioned the family members individually on Dec. 17, 1986. Bishop said she wanted to unload the weapon and started to lift it when “someone said something to her and she turned and the gun went off” while her brother was walking across the kitchen, according to the report.
When Bishop fled the house, she said she wasn’t aware she’d hit her brother and was instead worried she’d ruined the kitchen, the report said. She said she didn’t recall anything, including taking the gun from the house, from the time of the shooting until she saw her mother later at the police station, it said.
Polio said the officer who took Bishop into custody told Polio he was upset she was released but “it was an isolated cop, telling me something. It wasn’t a big movement.”
Polio stepped down as police chief in 1987 after more than 37 years with the department, including 25 years as chief. He said he served honorably and his integrity shouldn’t be questioned.
“That’s one thing that could never be called into question,” he said. “I don’t blink at that, except it annoys me.”
A University of Alabama at Huntsville spokesman said Bishop, who is in her 40s, had been denied tenure before she was held Friday in the campus shooting.
As Bishop was being taken to jail in handcuffs she said: “It didn’t happen. There’s no way.”
Attempts by The Associated Press to track down addresses and phone numbers for Bishop’s family in the Braintree area weren’t immediately successful Saturday. Polio’s wife said she believed the Bishop family had moved away.