Shortly after fatally shooting her brother in 1986, Amy Bishop held two men at gunpoint and demanded a getaway car at an auto repair shop near her family's Braintree home, according to one of the men involved.
Carrying a shotgun by her side, a 21-year-old Bishop walked intently across a car lot into the adjacent storefront, where she began searching for car keys. Coming down from the second floor, she was heading toward the garage when she ran into Tom Pettigrew and a friend, who had spotted her in the parking lot and came to investigate.
"Her gun hit me in the chest," Pettigrew, 45, recalled from his Quincy apartment. "I yelled, 'What are you doing?' and she screamed at me to put my hands up. So I put my hands up."
On Friday, Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama, allegedly opened fire at a faculty meeting, killing three colleagues and wounding three others. Investigators soon discovered that Bishop had killed her younger brother in 1986 with a shotgun, a shooting that was ruled accidental.
But the Braintree police chief has cast doubt on that conclusion, and the armed confrontation at the garage provides new insight into her state of mind after her brother's death. The Boston Herald first reported Pettigrew's account of the events today.
Only minutes after that shooting, according to Pettigrew, Bishop frantically told workers at the garage she had been in an argument with her husband and needed a car to escape, nervously scanning the premises as she kept the gun pointed at their backs.
"She kept saying 'I need a car, I need to get out of here,'" Pettigrew recalled. "She said he would be looking for her, and that if he found her he would kill her. She seemed terrified."
Investigators said there were only three people in the Bishop home at the time of the shooting - Bishop, her mother, and her brother. Her father had left to go shopping after he and Bishop had a disagreement. In her statement to detectives, Bishop said she raced out the door after the shooting and believed she had dropped the gun behind her. She said she could not recall anything else that happened until she saw her mother at the police station after being taken into custody.
Pettigrew said he tried to defuse the situation by calmly asking her what was wrong, but she did not seem to hear him.
"At the time, I remember thinking she was out of her mind," said Pettigrew, who was stunned when he learned that the thin, mousy teenager who once held him at gunpoint had been charged in the Alabama rampage.
At times, Bishop held the gun loosely, and did not appear to be familiar with firearms, said Pettigrew, an experienced hunter. So he and his friend, moving on eye contact, fled in opposite directions. Bishop did not fire at them.
"She just looked around agitated," he said. "She didn't know what to do."
Seconds later, police surrounded the area, and quickly seized her, he said.
Later, Braintree police briefly questioned Pettigrew and several other employees, and authorities never contacted Pettigrew again. He read in the paper the family shooting had been ruled an accident, and that Bishop was not charged with a crime.
Now, after the deaths in Alabama, Pettigrew wonders why authorities didn't follow up more aggressively, and wonders whether things could have turned out differently if they had.
"It was almost like they wanted to put it on the shelf and forget about it," he said. "I think if that happened to me I'd be wrapping up a long prison sentence. But with this, it seems like they just wanted it to go away."
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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