3 dead in Ga. shooting; professor sought

April 25, 2009 9:04:09 PM PDT
Authorities were on a nationwide manhunt for a University of Georgia professor in the shooting deaths of three people, including his ex-wife, Saturday at a community theater near campus. Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman said authorities were searching for a suspect, 57-year-old George Zinkhan, who has been a marketing professor at the university in Athens since the 1990s, and lived about seven miles from campus. Killed were Zinkhan's ex-wife, Marie Bruce, 47, Tom Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63, Holeman said. Both men were involved with the theater group in Athens, about 70 miles east of Atlanta.

The shooting happened outside the Athens Community Theater during a mid-day gathering of Town & Gown Players Inc., a local theater group. Holeman said the shooter left his two young children in the car when he opened fire on the group. A neighbor of Zinkhan's in nearby Bogart said the professor later dropped off the children with him next door and left after saying there was an emergency. The children were with police.

Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson said the three victims were shot multiple times. Two other people were injured by shrapnel and their conditions were not immediately known.

Two different guns were involved in the shooting, and neither was recovered at the scene, Holeman said. Investigators searched Zinkhan's house in a suburb about eight miles from campus, but did not find the two weapons, Holeman said.

Authorities issued a nationwide alert for Zinkhan and his 2005 red Jeep Liberty with Georgia license plate AIX1376. "Anyone who shoots three people is dangerous, that's the best way I can put it," Holeman said.

Holeman said there was some sort of discussion, possibly a disagreement, between the shooter and one of the victims when the shooting took place. Police said they received a call of a shooting at the theater about 12:25 p.m. Holeman said a motive wasn't immediately known.

Neighbor Robert Covington said Zinkhan dropped his son and daughter off at his house after noon. Zinkhan asked the Covingtons to watch the children for about an hour and then left. Covington described Zinkhan and Bruce as still living together in the house.

Covington said when he asked Zinkhan's daughter, who is about 10 years old, about the emergency "all she would relate to me was there was something about a firecracker."

Police later took the children, along with Covington's wife, to the police station, Covington said.

Zinkhan was quiet and introverted, but Covington said would never suspect something like the shootings.

"It's a pretty huge shock," Covington said.

Dana Adams lives across the street from Zinkhan, but said she didn't know him well. She described him as "kind of a strange character," who would sometimes walk off in the middle of a conversation. "But I would never suspect this," Adams said.

She said SWAT teams had swarmed the neighborhood and police had hidden in her backyard. Covington called his neighborhood "police central."

Zinkhan has been a professor in the Terry College of Business, university spokesman Pete Konenkamp said. He didn't have any disciplinary problems.

"His track record is impeccable as far as his teaching credentials," Konenkamp said. "He's a respected professor on campus."

Bruce was a well-respected attorney in Athens who loved the theater and recently directed a production of "Trip to Bountiful," said Wesley Cook who knew Bruce through the theater company, where Cook's girlfriend performed.

"She was very lively and charming and was an integral part of that theater community," Clark said.

According to the Georgia Bar, Bruce graduated from the University of Georgia's law school and specialized in family law.

The university issued a campus-wide alert as a precaution.

"Our first thoughts are for safety of the university community and for prompt apprehension of the person responsible," university President Michael F. Adams said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who have been affected."

Before joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, Zinkhan held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh. He has a doctorate from the University of Michigan and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1974.

Tom Reichert, a professor at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, knew Zinkhan from around the campus.

"This is a total shock," Reichert said. "I wouldn't say he was particularly vivacious or particularly quiet. He was right down the middle."

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Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey, Walter Putnam, Bernard McGhee and Daniel Yee in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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