UGA mourners leave flowers; Search for suspect continues

Sunday, April 26, 2009 11:06 AM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 11:42 AM
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As a steady stream of mourners left flowers this afternoon at a community theater, police continued a nationwide search for a University of Georgia professor they believe shot and killed his wife and two men Saturday at an Athens theater gathering.

Dr. George Zinkhan  Special
Special
Dr. George Zinkhan

Police said they are searching for Dr. George Zinkhan. Anyone with information is urged to call the Athens-Clarke County police at (706) 613-3888.

This afternoon, a Richmond County Marshal's Office deputy based at Augusta Regional Airport confirmed that the facility is among airports nationwide checking for Mr. Zinkhan to ensure he doesn't try to leave the country.

The deputy said officers have a picture of Mr. Zinkhan and are checking as passengers go through security.

Mr. Zinkhan has relatives in Austin, Texas, and might be on his way there, officials said Saturday. Mr. Zinkhan also owns a home in The Netherlands.

"We'll be searching until we find him," said Athens-Clarke police Capt. Clarence Holeman via e-mail today.

Mr. Zinkhan, 56, was last seen driving a red 2005 Jeep Liberty with a Georgia tag number AIX 1376. Police have not found the car, so he may still be driving it.

Witnesses said he fatally shot his wife, Marie Bruce, 47, formerly of Martinez, and two men, Tom Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63.

Shortly after the mid-day shooting, Mr. Zinkhan dropped his children off with a neighbor and vanished.

Police searched his North Campus office and a Bogart, Ga., home, where workmen were replacing the broken-down door this afternoon.

While authorities across the country are searching for Mr. Zinkhan — who has family in Texas and a home in The Netherlands — Athens residents are urging police and university officials not to discount that the wanted man is still alive and close by.

“I hope that the university will be on alert and consider the possiblity — I don’t think it’s a probability, but a possibility — that he isn’t finished yet,” said Susan Roell, whose 23-year-old son attends UGA.

Ms. Roell is disturbed by a poem Mr. Zinkan wrote about hiking the Appalachian Trail and speculated that the marketing professor may be in the woods.

“This is very out of character to feel this unsafe in Athens,” she said. “You hear of it happening anywhere else, but not here.”

Others are asking police for more photos to help identify Mr. Zinkhan if they run across him.

And late Saturday evening, Athens-Clarke police released a second photo of Zinkhan, an image of him looking much older and more hagard than the first picture authorities released. In the photo released around 10 p.m., Mr. Zinkhan’s hair is thinner, his beard bushier and his eyes wrinkled with age.

“It just makes sense to me that if police are covering every possible base and he may be on the run, he may have tried to alter his appearance,” said Janet Frick, a psychology professor at UGA.

She doesn’t worry that Mr. Zinkhan will return to campus as spring semester winds down next week, she said, but she also didn’t expect Saturday’s tragedy.

“All evidence is that it was a crime of passion and he was specifically targeting those people,” she said. “I can’t envision him returning, but I couldn’t have envisioned this happening yesterday, either.”

Still, a sketch of a clean-shaven Mr. Zinkhan would help people anywhere if he might go, she said.

According to Saturday witness accounts, current and former members of Town and Gown Players, a long-standing community theater group off Prince Avenue, had gathered for an annual reunion about noon when Mr. Zinkhan started arguing with someone, left briefly and returned with two handguns, according to Athens-Clarke police Capt. Clarence Holeman.

Mr. Zinkhan fired several shots, Capt. Holeman said, killing the three people. Mr. Zinkhan left his two young children in the car, and after the shooting, dropped off the children with a neighbor in nearby Bogart, west of Athens, and left, saying there was an emergency, according to police. The children did not see the shootings, authorities said.

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.

"They were good people, and I have no idea why (Mr. Zinkhan) went nuts," he said.

Police and a SWAT team searched Saturday for Mr. Zinkhan anywhere they thought he might go, including Mr. Zinkhan's house on Chesterfield Drive in Bogart, his office in Brooks Hall on campus and Mr. Bruce's downtown law office, but did not find him.

Police said Mr. Zinkhan, 56, was last seen driving a red 2005 Jeep Liberty with a Georgia tag number AIX 1376. Police have not found the car, so he may still be driving it, Capt. Holeman said.

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

One of them was Christina Black, a student at the Terry College of Business, where Mr. Zinkhan taught. Ms. Black was working on a project with a classmate when she heard news of the shooting.

"I didn't believe it at first," she said. "I was shocked. 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. Ms. Black said she bonded with Mr. Zinkhan over their mutual love of the sketch comedy troop Monty Python, and he sometimes let her show clips during class, she said.

Other students who rated Mr. Zinkhan's teaching performance were not so charitable. While some anonymous students called him brilliant, funny and interesting, others said he was cold-hearted, nasty and full of hot air.

Mr. Zinkhan wrote poetry that he posted on the Internet. He also played the piano and traveled frequently, said Leara Rhodes, a Town and Gown Players volunteer and Grady College of Journalism professor who judged contestants for the Peabody Awards with Mr. Zinkhan.

Ms. Rhodes said she had no direct knowledge of marital problems between Mr. Zinkhan and his wife, Ms. Bruce, but her "gut feeling is that it was domestic."

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 online resume.

Before coming to UGA, Zinkhan taught at the University of Houston, the University of Pittsburg and the University of Michigan. He received his master's degree in 1979 and his doctorate in 1981 from Michigan after graduating with a degree in English literature from Swarthmore College in 1974.

Mr. Zinkhan wrote several books and edited the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences from 2003 to 2006. In 2004, he won an award for outstanding contribution to research from the American Academy of Advertising.

Bobby Friedmann, also a UGA marketing professor, said he was still trying to digest the news.

"It's very shocking," he said.

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Rucker1
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Rucker1 04/26/09 - 11:49 am
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this is real sad that someone

this is real sad that someone with those type smarts could go off, maybe a brain overload! I feel for the people who got shot and was killed. I really feel sorry for the children that they have to go thru this for the rest of there lives. May God help them!

RedQuinoa
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RedQuinoa 04/26/09 - 01:43 pm
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contrary to popular belief,

contrary to popular belief, "smarts" does not equate to morals. Indeed, may God help those children.

Dixieman
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Dixieman 04/26/09 - 04:08 pm
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I went to Harvard Law School.

I went to Harvard Law School. Everyone there was very, very bright, and about a third of them were weird and warped human beings. Not surprised at this; sounds like a love triangle.

rainingoranges
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rainingoranges 04/26/09 - 05:50 pm
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Haha, Dixieman. I went to

Haha, Dixieman. I went to Harvard for undergrad and can TOTALLY backup what you're saying there. Intelligence does not prevent people from doing something like this. Honestly, statistically speaking, there will be murderers in every segment of the population.

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