Professor sought in killings

A nationwide search was under way Saturday night for a University of Georgia marketing professor who police say shot and killed his wife and two men at an Athens theater gathering that afternoon.

 

Current and former members of Town and Gown Players, a long-standing community theater group, had gathered for an annual reunion when 56-year-old George Zinkhan started arguing with someone, left briefly and returned with two handguns, according to Athens-Clarke police Capt. Clarence Holeman.

He fired several shots, Capt. Holeman said, killing three people: his wife, Marie Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63. Two other victims were wounded and taken to Athens Regional Medical Center.

According to the Georgia Bar, Ms. Bruce, who graduated from the University of Georgia's law school, moved to Athens in 1980 from Martinez, according to a 2002 profile of her in the Athens Banner-Herald .

She graduated from Westside High School and attended Warren Baptist Church, according to a family friend in Augusta.

The church would not confirm that she was once a member, but someone who answered the church's emergency number confirmed that the pastors were with Ms. Bruce's family.

Wayne Kitchens, a childhood friend of Ms. Bruce, said he was shocked to hear about her brutal death Saturday. Mr. Kitchens, who lives in Evans, said he and Ms. Bruce became friends when she was a student at Westside High and he was a student at Academy of Richmond County.

"You just can't believe it," he said. "She was such a nice person."

Her interest in theater was clear at Westside High, where she was involved in the theater department, Mr. Kitchens said. He said he wished he'd gotten a chance to see her perform with the Town and Gown Players.

Capt. Holeman raised the possibility that the shooting could be a crime of passion.

"I can only speculate," he said. "Some people are saying it could be a love triangle or something like that."

Mr. Zinkhan appeared to target Mr. Tanner, Mr. Teague and Ms. Bruce, said Rick Bedell, an actor with the Town and Gown Players, but he did not know why.

"It was deliberate," Mr. Bedell said. "He shot these three people specifically and walked out."

Authorities say Mr. Zinkhan had left his children in the car when the shooting happened.

Capt. Holeman said Mr. Zinkhan's children are safe. Neighbor Robert Covington said Mr. Zinkhan dropped his son and daughter off at his house. Mr. Covington said Mr. Zinkhan only said there had been an emergency.

Police said Mr. Zinkhan was last seen driving a red 2005 Jeep Liberty with Georgia tag number AIX 1376. Police have not found the car, Capt. Holeman said.

UGA sent text messages to more than 25,000 students and employees warning them that Mr. Zinkhan was on the loose.

One of them was Christina Black, a student at the Terry College of Business, where Mr. Zinkhan taught.

"I was shocked," she said. "We sat there for half an hour with our jaws just dropped."

Ms. Black said she took one of Mr. Zinkhan's marketing classes last semester. She described him as an easygoing, jovial man who was understanding and cooperative with students.

Mr. Zinkhan holds a professorship endowed by Coca-Cola in the Terry College of Business marketing and distribution department. He has taught there since 1994, according to his resume.

Associated Press and staff reports were used in this article.

THE VICTIMS

Three people died in a shooting at the Town and Gown Players theater in Athens, Ga.:

- Mr. Zinkhan's wife, Marie Bruce, 47

- Tom Tanner, 40

- Ben Teague, 63

Two other people were wounded and taken to Athens Regional Medical Center.

See Mr. Zinkhan's UGA faculty profile here.