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Athens shooting sparks nationwide manhunt

UGA professor suspected of slaying 3 at theater

POSTED: April 26, 2009 12:06 a.m.
/The Associated Press

George Zinkhan III

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ATHENS — Police still are searching for a University of Georgia marketing professor in the shooting deaths of three people, including his wife, Saturday at a community theater near the college campus.

George Zinkhan III, 57, approached a gathering of the Town and Gown Players performance group at Athens Community Theater at noon and fired multiple times before running away, according to Alan Brown, assistant police chief for Athens-Clarke County.

Three people were fatally wounded, and two others were hit with shrapnel and transported to St. Mary’s Hospital.

Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson said the three victims were shot multiple times.

The three killed were Zinkhan’s wife, Marie Bruce, 47, a local attorney and president of the performance group’s board of directors; Ben Teague, 63, a set designer for the group and husband of University of Georgia English professor Fran Teague; and Tom Tanner, 40, a set designer and performer for the group.

Police said they received a call of a shooting at the theater about 12:25 p.m. The shooting occurred when actors were preparing for an evening performance.

Authorities issued a nationwide alert for Zinkhan and his 2005 red Jeep Liberty with Georgia license plate AIX1376.

Police searched his UGA office and broke down the door of his home in nearby Bogart, but Zinkhan has yet to be found.

"I saw a lady with a dog who was screaming hysterically and running as fast as she could out of the parking lot," said Jamie Kroll, who was attending a mother-daughter Kappa Delta brunch at the Grady House in the area of the shooting.

"We saw a guy laying there. He had gotten shot and was lying there on the pavement."

Zinkhan’s two children, ages 8 and 10, are in police custody, ACC Police Capt. Clarence Holeman said.

Neighbors talked in their yards, and police blocked the neighborhood’s road.

"I can’t believe we woke up to this today, when you see something like this on TV it always seems so far away, and we all wonder what the kids going through," said Emily Foshee, executive director of National Investment Bankers Association who lives three doors down from the Zinkhan residence.

"I talked to an officer who was blocking the road earlier. ... When I asked about the children, he looked at me and said ‘the children are fine; he had the presence of mind to drop them off somewhere before he did this.’"

Police had to move blockades temporarily in the early afternoon.

"People are definitely talking about it," said Marlee Waxelbaum, a UGA senior from Roswell who attended Twilight events the whole day. "Thanks to UGA Alert, it’s certainly the talk of Twilight."

UGA Alert, set up after the 2007 shooting events at Virginia Tech to call and send campuswide messages to faculty, staff and students, was issued by university officials at 2 p.m. as a precaution.

It read: "UGA Professor George Zinkhan is a suspect in a shooting off campus. George Zinkhan is a white male in his mid 50s with a goatee or beard. Current information is that he was last seen wearing a polo shirt, blue shorts, and a backpack. He was last thought to be in a red car in the area of Prince Avenue. Use extreme caution if contact is made. Call 911 if you know his location. Please do not call 911 for information."

University President Michael F. Adams issued a statement later in the afternoon.

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

Zinkhan is a marketing and distribution professor and a distinguished Coca-Cola Company professor in the Terry College of Business.

"There was no indication Thursday in class. I was just asking him marketing questions and he was answering," said Chris Campbell, a master’s student who worked under Zinkhan for his assistantship. "We’re all stunned, and it’s hard to believe," describing the Zinkhan as a "nice guy," whom he played softball with just a few days ago.

Zinkhan worked at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh and received a doctorate degree in 1981 from the University of Michigan in business administration, a master’s degree in 1979 from the University of Michigan in operations research and a bachelor’s degree in 1974 from Swarthmore College in English literature.

Zinkhan has been a professor in the Terry College of Business, said university spokesman Pete Konenkamp. 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."

Two different guns were involved in the shooting, and neither was recovered at the scene, Holeman said

The shooting did not affect the 30th annual Athens Twilight Criterium events, a festival and bike race during the weekend that draws tens of thousands each year to downtown Athens.

Carolyn Crist is editor-in-chief of the Red and Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia. The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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