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Ala. university recovering a year after shootings

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JAY REEVES | February 10, 2011 02:55 PM EST | AP

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — It's been a year since a Harvard-educated professor opened fire during a faculty meeting in a conference room at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, killing three colleagues and wounding three others. Ever since, those staff meetings have been held elsewhere.

Professor Debra Moriarity, who narrowly escaped dying that day, works in an office nearby and said it's too much to go back in there.

"That conference room has been closed up since after the incident," she said. "They went in, cleaned it and repainted it, but we don't use it."

She and the rest of the survivors of professor Amy Bishop's Feb. 12 rampage are recovering, pulling each other through with the help of dozens of doctors, counselors, substitute teachers, relatives and friends.

"We talked to each other a lot, especially in those first few weeks," said Moriarity, interim chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, where the shooting occurred. "We're at an OK place now, probably better than a lot of people expected us to be."

Moriarity has awful memories from that day: She tried to stop the shooter and wound up with a gun pointed directly at her. The weapon clicked but didn't fire.

For some students it's creepy just being inside the Shelby Center, a modern science building filled with classrooms and laboratories.

"It's just weird knowing what happened there," said senior Jonna Greer.

Bishop remains in jail without bond just a few miles from campus. Her lawyer, Roy Miller, doesn't deny that she opened fire or that a major factor in her attack was being denied tenure. Instead, he is laying the groundwork for an insanity defense.

After she was charged with capital murder in the UAH killings, Bishop came under renewed scrutiny as Massachusetts authorities reopened an investigation into the fatal shooting of her brother Seth at the home they shared with their parents in 1986.

Originally determined to be an accident, the shooting was reclassified as a homicide and Bishop was charged with murder in that slaying, too.

Bishop faces four lawsuits over the Alabama shooting. Authorities say she attempted suicide at least once in custody but has mostly settled into the jailhouse routine.

Meanwhile, Bishop's office – with many of her belongings still inside – sits locked and dark at the Shelby Center. Officials still haven't decided what to do with the contents a year later.

A memorial service is planned on Saturday for the three professors who were killed: The previous department chair, Gopi Padila; Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel Johnson.

Of the three people who were hurt, assistant professor Luis Cruz-Vera suffered the least severe injuries and returned to work the soonest. His wife is a teacher and helped take over a seminar class that Davis had taught, Moriarity said.

Staff aide Stephanie Monticciolo, who was shot in the head, is still recovering and retired. Professor Joseph Leahy, who also was shot in the head, has undergone months of operations and rehabilitation and already has been back at the department on a part-time basis.

"Joe is looking forward to teaching in the fall," Moriarity said.

The biological sciences department needed help getting through the last academic year after being devastated by the loss of four teachers: the slain victims and Bishop. More than a dozen visiting professors and retired teachers helped fill the void on a rotating basis. Schools including Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, where other shootings have occurred, offered administrators advice on how to move forward.

The department is currently trying to hire three people for tenure-track jobs to fill the positions permanently, Moriarity said. There was some concern that people might shy away from UAH because of the shootings, but more than 155 resumes came in.

Public universities seem perpetually strapped for cash, and Moriarity said the loss of valuable research performed by Bishop and the shooting victims has reduced outside research grants coming into UAH. That's expected to improve as new teachers are hired. Enrollment in some biology courses dipped slightly after the shootings, according to Moriarity but the school currently has about 430 biology majors, about the same as before.

Greer, the student government association president, said the campus came together in a healthy way after the violence and is better in some ways than before.

"There's more school pride and sense of community," said Greer, a senior majoring in Spanish. "I think it will last."

Still, there's the conference room.

Moriarity and her colleagues now meet wherever they can, gathering in several different rooms as they are available. No decision has been made on what to do with the space where the bloodshed occurred.

"We are now talking to our facilities people to see what we are going to do with that space," she said. "The general consensus was we don't want to use it again as a conference room, or at least not in any way similar to the way it is set up now."

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University of Alabama in Huntsville: http://www.uah.edu