UGA professor had plane ticket, left empty passport case

Monday, April 27, 2009 6:14 AM
Last updated 8:39 PM
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ATHENS, Ga. — Authorities are searching for a University of Georgia professor suspected in the shooting deaths of his wife and two men, with the FBI revealing Monday that he has a plane ticket for the Netherlands later this week and left behind an empty passport case.

The marketing professor, George M. Zinkhan, has not been seen since the shootings near the campus on Saturday. His relatives have been working to help Athens-Clarke County police and the FBI to find him, his brother told The Associated Press.

"We are doing all we can to prevent any additional violence," Chris Zinkhan said in an e-mail.

Gunfire erupted at a midday gathering of a local theater group at the Athens Community Theater. Killed were George Zinkhan's wife, 47-year-old attorney Marie Bruce, and two members of her theater group, Ben Teague, 63, and Tom Tanner, 40.

Zinkhan, 57, disappeared after the shootings in a red Jeep Liberty. Authorities say they don't know what motivated the shootings.

As classes resumed Monday on the campus where Zinkhan had taught since the 1990s, the university announced that the professor had been fired.

As a precaution, university police carried assault rifles as they patrolled on foot, but University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said investigators believe Zinkhan had left Athens, which is 70 miles (113 kilometers) east of Atlanta.

"We feel that he is no longer local," Williamson told reporters, though he declined to say why. "We just don't think he is close by."

Still, the university's president urged everyone to use caution until Zinkhan is found.

Delta Air Lines confirmed Zinkhan has a ticket to Amsterdam for May 2, FBI Special Agent Gregory McClendon said in a federal court affidavit as part of a criminal complaint accusing Zinkhan of flight to avoid prosecution.

The affidavit did not say when the ticket was bought, although a family friend told investigators that Zinkhan's wife had said Zinkhan had scheduled a trip to Amsterdam. A colleague of Zinkhan's told authorities the professor had recently purchased a phone that could be used internationally.

Warren French, a UGA professor of business ethics and Zinkhan's longtime friend, said Zinkhan has traveled to Amsterdam twice a year — at Christmas and during summer break — for the last two years. He has taught part-time at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) since April 2007.

French said Zinkhan had a voracious intellect, often getting little sleep because he would read through the night. French said Zinkhan succeeded him as head of the school's marketing department in 1994, and held the job for six years. While passionate about his work, Zinkhan never seemed controlled by his emotions, he said.

"As department head, he caught the flak you normally get from faculty members and students. He never lost his temper. He just seemed to take it," French said. "This is so out of character — for him first of all to get mad and second to ever resort to violence of any type."

It was after he became department head that Zinkhan met Bruce, who worked there as a student adviser and communications director before she went to law school, French said.

He said Zinkhan rarely talked about his wife, though he spoke adoringly of their two children. Zinkhan threw a party at their house for Bruce's 40th birthday several years ago, and French said he had dinner at the couple's home last year.

"They are both free spirits, and as free spirits, they seemed to be happy," French said.

Police said that after the shooting, Zinkhan dropped his two children, ages 8 and 10, with a neighbor. Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman said are the custody of Bruce's brother.

"I have these children in my house and that's all I can think about now," a woman who answered the phone at that brother's house Monday who identified herself as his wife. She said the family had no further comment.

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ATHENS, Ga. — A University of Georgia professor suspected of killing his wife and two other men outside a community theater has a plane ticket to fly to the Netherlands later this week and left behind an empty passport wallet, federal authorities said today.

Law enforcement agencies nationwide have been searching for 57-year-old marketing professor George Zinkhan since Saturday's shootings in Athens.

Police patrolled the university with assault rifles as a precaution when classes resumed today, but officials said they didn't believe there was an imminent threat.

"We don't feel like the campus is in any danger from Mr. Zinkhan," said Athens-Clarke County police Capt. Clarence Holeman. "He killed the people he wanted to kill."

Authorities still don't know the motive for the shootings. Today, the university announced that he'd been fired.

In a federal court affidavit filed today, FBI Special Agent Gregory McClendon said Delta Air Lines confirmed Zinkhan has a ticket to Amsterdam for May 2.

"He may change the date and attempt to leave early," McClendon said in the affidavit.

The affidavit did not say when the ticket was purchased, although a family friend told investigators that Zinkhan's wife had said Zinkhan had scheduled a trip to Amsterdam. He also apparently had recently purchased a phone that could be used internationally.

Zinkhan has a house in Amsterdam, where he also teaches. The Vrije Universiteit (Free University) confirmed Zinkhan has taught part-time since April 2007, visiting for about six weeks each year.

In a statement, the institution said Zinkhan had been "a peaceful and talented researcher."

McClendon said authorities have searched Zinkhan's house and office. He has not contacted family, friends or students and his passport is missing.

"No one can account for Zinkhan's whereabouts," McClendon said.

The shooting happened midday Saturday during a reunion picnic for a local theater group outside the Athens Community Theater.

The victims — Zinkhan's wife Marie Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63 — were members of Town & Gown Players, which was staging a performance of "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure" at the theater. Two others were hurt by bullet fragments.

Bruce, Zinkhan's wife, had been serving as Town & Gown's president after years of volunteering with the group. Tanner was a Clemson University economist who taught at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs in Clemson, South Carolina. Teague was one of Town & Gown's longest-serving volunteers and was married to a University of Georgia English professor

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Statement by the Town & Gown board:

The three people we lost yesterday were a part of the rich 50-year history of this theater and, more than that, were vital members of the Town and Gown family.

Ben Teague, loving husband of UGA's Dr. Fran Teague for more than 40 years, was not only a friend but also a father figure to all at the theater. One would be hard pressed to find a Town and Gowner who had not learned at least one life lesson from this wise and kind hearted man. His wife wishes to say, "Yesterday Ben was murdered, which is hard to comprehend and impossible to accept. It was a beautiful day, however, and he was in his favorite place with the people he loved."

Ben was a translator of German, Russian and English.

Marie Bruce was the binding force that held the Town and Gown community together. Having worked with Town and Gown for over 20 years, at one time or another she served in every capacity at the theater, artistically and administratively, from leading lady to president of the board to chief cook and bottle washer. A local attorney, Marie was the mother of two young children.

A gentle presence, Tom Tanner breathed life into every corner of Town and Gown through his quiet diligence and astounding creativity - most would call him genius. Father of an equally amazing daughter, Tom would tell you that while he enjoyed his work as director of the Regional Dynamics Economic Modeling Laboratory at Clemson University, his heart lived and thrived in the theater.

Ben, Marie and Tom were a part of our family, and as painful as their loss is for us, we know it is even more painful for their families. We want to extend our deepest sympathy to their immediate family and close friends outside the theater community. There are no words we can use to adequately express our grief.

We would like to thank the Athens Police department and the media for their respectful treatment of this tragedy. We want to thank the American Bio Recovery Association and A1 BIO-Clean Service for the generous donation of their services in our time of need. We also want to thank the Athens Community for their support. This tragedy effects everyone in the community in some way, and we know you share in our loss. We ask that the media continue to be respectful of our privacy during this difficult time.

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Statement from UGA president Michael Adams

To the Members of the University of Georgia Community:

We have had a tragedy this weekend that has impacted Athens and the entire University of Georgia community. We are saddened by the shooting that took place Saturday, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all those who have been affected. As we grieve, we are determined to move forward.

Over the past 24 hours, I have had several meetings with the senior administrative team and received briefings from campus and local law enforcement regarding measures of campus safety and security. UGA and Athens-Clarke County police have done an extraordinary job of providing a strong law enforcement presence as we enter the final week of classes, and I have great confidence in their abilities.

UGA will operate under a normal schedule this week with classes and other business. However, I urge everyone to continue to exercise caution until the suspect is apprehended.

In wake of this tragedy, the University Health Center, through the Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) unit, will provide grief counseling and support for UGA faculty, staff and students affected by these recent events. Should anyone need or desire such services, please contact CAPS at 706-542-1162. Between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. persons wishing to reach CAPS should call University Police dispatch at 706-542-2200 and ask for the CAPS on-call staff member.

As a reminder, police are still looking for George M. Zinkhan III, 57 years of age, 6-feet three-inches tall, 240 pounds, blue eyes, white male with a goatee, with light brown hair and some graying. He was last seen wearing a polo shirt and blue shorts with a backpack, and driving a 2005 reddish Jeep Liberty with Georgia tag AIX 1376. If you know his location or see him call 911. Please do not call 911 seeking information. Please do not call UGA Police asking questions. Only call to provide information that you may have regarding this matter. Police continue to urge members of the University community to use your best judgment in taking precautions while this suspect remains at large.

We will continue to share information with you regarding this matter as it becomes available.

Michael F. Adams, President

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