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.
At first, the story appeared neither to be local nor all that atypical as such things go. Bishop reportedly shot three colleagues to death at a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama, supposedly in response to not having received tenure.
But soon the Boston Globe broke two mind-boggling stories — that she had killed her brother with a shotgun when she was just 18 21 years old, and that she had come under suspicion in the attempted mail-bombing of one of her professors at Harvard University.
(Today we even learn there’s a Northeastern University angle. Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, are said to have met when they were undergraduates at Northeastern. From what we know so far, she apparently was not weaponized during her time as an undergrad.)
I’ve been thinking hard about whether there has been a bigger local story in the post-Stuart years. Yes, the 9/11 attacks began at Logan Airport, but that angle was quickly subsumed into the larger national story. Louise Woodward? A big one, yes, but not nearly as big as this may become.
At moments like this, it always makes sense to think about what we’ve learned from the past and how that might apply in the present situation. The Stuart case, you may recall, was a media fiasco. Nearly everyone went along for the ride when Stuart blamed the shooting on a black man who set up on him and his wife as they were driving home from a childbirth class at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
In fact, Stuart had shot his wife for insurance money so he could open a restaurant, then shot himself. That neither law-enforcement officials nor the media questioned his initial story set back race relations in a significant way, and stained the legacy of then-mayor Ray Flynn, who’d made racial harmony his top priority.
In the Bishop case, no one is questioning that she shot fellow faculty members on Friday. Still, the fact that she was never charged — never mind convicted — in the earlier incidents ought to give us pause. (The killing of her brother was ruled an accident, though the reasons are unclear. A Boston Herald story about a man who says Bishop threatened him with a gun right after the shooting certainly raises questions.)
The Globe showed a lot of enterprise in digging out those stories about Bishop’s background. But it may be a while before we know how they fit into the larger picture.
*Update: Andy Smith asks, “wasn’t that priest thing kind of a big deal?” Indeed it was, and I’m glad I threw this out there before writing a more-considered version for the Guardian tonight.