Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NYTimes | When after many months of careful tending, Sarah Cseke reached a milestone in her graduate student research, she went straight to the office of the busy chairman of the biology department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Gopi Podila, to share the triumphal moment.

“I knocked on his door with a petri dish full of hairy roots, and he actually came to the door and took the time to look at it,” she said. “He was just as happy as I was.”

On Friday, the biology department at the university lost Dr. Podila, 52, and two other faculty members in a hail of gunfire at an afternoon faculty meeting. A colleague with a Harvard Ph.D., Amy Bishop, is charged with capital murder. Another professor and the department administrator are still in the hospital in critical condition.

The deaths have left a small, close-knit department trying to pick up the pieces without either its leader, Dr. Podila, or the person colleagues described as its “glue,” Stephanie Monticciolo, 62, the administrator, who doles out hugs and birthday reminders. Ms. Monticciolo is in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head.

The two other people killed were Maria Ragland Davis, 50, and Adriel Johnson, 52, described as professors who spent hours of extra time helping students. A colleague, Joseph Leahy, 50, a microbiology professor known for his zesty lectures, remained hospitalized with a head wound.

“They will leave a large hole in our department,” said Debra Moriarity, a biology professor and the dean of the university’s graduate program.