A nationwide search is underway for a University marketing professor, and member of the Swarthmore class of 1974, who is accused of killing three people and wounding two others in a quiet Athens neighborhood Saturday afternoon.
George Zinkhan III, 57 approached a gathering of the Town and Gown Players performance group at Athens Community Theater at noon with two guns and fired them multiple times before escaping in his vehicle, according to Alan Brown, assistant police chief for Athens-Clarke County.
Three were fatally wounded, and two others were hit with shrapnel and transported to St. Mary’s Hospital. The three victims are 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 English professor Fran Teague; and Tom Tanner, 40, a set designer and performer for the group.
The shooting occurred during a reunion of former and current members of the Town and Gown Players, and actors were preparing for an evening performance of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.” Authorities issued a nationwide alert for Zinkhan and his 2005 maroon Jeep Liberty Renegade with the Georgia license plate AIX1376. Police searched his Brooks Hall office, Bruce’s law office downtown and a SWAT team broke down the door of his home in Bogart, Ga., but Zinkhan has yet to be located. Neither has his car.
Performances were canceled at the theater. Pajama Jam and the Ballroom Formal on the campus were still held Saturday night.
“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” and realized, “this isn’t a play.”
Police are checking airports and told each other on the police scanner Saturday afternoon to follow cars they believe may be heading to Austin, Texas, where some of his relatives live. He also owns a home in Amsterdam.
Zinkhan dropped off his two children, ages 8 and 10, at the home of a neighbor.
“He indicated that he needed someone to watch his kids for an hour,” the neighbor, Robert Covington, said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “He said there had been an emergency.”
The children are in police custody now, said ACC Police Captain Clarence Holeman.
Neighbors talked in their yards during the day, 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 Ã¢€Åš 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.’”
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.
“We’ve had to make some adjustments on how we’re handling Twilight,” Brown said.
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 Ã¢€Åš Plus, I think the Atlanta news helicopters probably wouldn’t be circling Twilight normally.”
UGA Alert, set up after the shooting events at Virginia Tech in 2007 to call and send campus-wide messages to faculty, staff and students, was issued by university officials to the 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 goattee 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,” who he played softball with just a few days ago.
Zinkhan worked at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh and received a Ph.D. in 1981 from the University of Michigan in business administration, an M.B.A. in 1979 from the University of Michigan in operations research and a B.A. in 1974 from Swarthmore College in English literature.
This article was republished with permission from The Red and Black. Carolyn Crist, Daniel Burnett, JoAnn Anderson, Alex Busko, Chelsea Cook and Mimi Ensley contributed to this story.