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Three killed in shooting at Alabama campus

All three were faculty members at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. A suspect is in custody. At least three others are injured, including two professors and a professor's assistant.

February 13, 2010|By Robin Abcarian and Richard Fausset

Reporting from Los Angeles and Atlanta — Three faculty members were killed, three other people were wounded and a woman was in custody Friday following a shooting during a biology department meeting on the campus of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, a university official said.

Two of the wounded are also faculty members and the other is a staff member, said Ray Garner, UA-Huntsville spokesman. Several dozen students were in the science building where the shootings took place, he said, but none witnessed the attack.

Huntsville Police Chief Henry Reyes said the suspect, whom he declined to identify, was apprehended without incident outside the building. Other "persons of interest" were also being questioned, he said.

Reyes, addressing reporters at a news conference Friday night, said a number of other people were also in the room at the time of the shooting but were not injured. Earlier Friday, campus Police Chief Charles Gailes said that people in the room had called 911 to report the shooting.

The three slain faculty members were identified as G.K. Podila, Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson.

The injured victims are professor Joseph G. Leahy, who was in critical condition Friday night; professor's assistant Stephanie Monticello, also in critical condition; and professor Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera, who was in stable condition, according to Huntsville Hospital spokesman Burr Ingram.

The attack took place about 4 p.m. at the university's new Shelby Center, a $60-million science and technology facility with labs, classrooms and two auditoriums. Police responded within one minute of the emergency call.

An e-mail alert was sent to students: "There has been a shooting on campus. The shooter has been apprehended. Everyone is encouraged to go home, classes are canceled tonight. . . . Counselors are available [on campus]."

Soon after the shooting, one of the top trending topics on Twitter was "Alabama-Huntsville."

Some students told local television station WHNT that they had not received the alert despite having signed up for the e-mail warnings. Some said they received the alert an hour after the shootings were reported.

Alerting students to campus disruptions with text and voice messages became an issue in April 2007 after a student killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Shanna Fuller, an Alabama-Huntsville student, told local television station WHNT-19 that she was in the library when the shootings occurred. For the first 10 or 15 minutes she didn't know the campus was on lockdown.

Despite being signed up for text alerts, she said, she did not receive word from the university. She found out there had been a shooting when her sister, who was watching the news, called to make sure she was OK.

Melissa Davis, whose stepmother teaches biology, was on the campus waiting to hear whether she was OK. Davis said that she had been unable to reach her.

"I don't know if they're not letting them contact family or what," Davis told the TV station, "or if she's OK. We're just trying to wait it out and see."

Later, police told her to go to the hospital.

It was not clear late Friday whether her stepmother was among the victims.

One week ago, Huntsville was shaken when 14-year-old Todd T. Brown was shot in the head at Discovery Middle School, allegedly by a fellow student. The suspect in that case was arrested and charged with murder and is being held in a juvenile facility.

"This is a very safe campus," said university spokesman Garner. "It's not unlike what we experienced a week ago. This town is not accustomed to having shootings and multiple deaths. It's a shock. It's tragic."

Huntsville, population 176,000, is located in northern Alabama, near the Tennessee state line. It's nicknamed "The Rocket City" for its long and storied history of aerospace advancements.

After World War II, advanced U.S. rocketry technology was developed there with the help of preeminent scientist Wernher von Braun, designer of the Germans' V-2 rocket.

The University of Alabama-Huntsville is closely aligned with the aerospace industry and national defense industries in town, including the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

robin.abcarian@ latimes.com

richard.fausset@ latimes.com

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