Authorities from Georgia to Texas had little to go on Sunday as they searched for a University of Georgia professor suspected of shooting his ex-wife and two other men to death outside a theater near campus.
Neighbors watched Saturday as SWAT team members, guns drawn, swarmed their tidy middle-class suburb about seven miles from the campus looking for 57-year-old George Zinkhan. But he wasn’t in his home or office and hadn’t used his credit or ATM cards.
After the shootings, the man described as an introverted, respected marketing professor dropped his children off with a next-door neighbor and vanished in his red Jeep, police said.
“We’re doing everything we can to shut him down,” said Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman. “I believe he will turn up somewhere, somehow.”
Authorities were monitoring airports in case Zinkhan tried to head to Amsterdam, where he owns a home, or Austin, Texas, where he has relatives.
“Anyone who shoots three people is dangerous, that’s the best way I can put it,” Holeman said.
Zinkhan had his son and daughter with him when he went to the Athens Community Theater on Saturday afternoon but left them in the Jeep as he fired at members of a local theater group, Holeman said.
Holeman identified those killed as Zinkhan’s ex-wife, Marie Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63. Flying shrapnel injured two others.
Zinkhan argued with at least one of the victims prior to the shooting, then walked away before returning with at least two different guns and opening fire, Holeman said.
Each victim was shot multiple times.
When Zinkhan dropped his children off, he told his neighbor, Robert Covington, only that he needed someone to watch them for about an hour because of an emergency.
Covington said when he asked Zinkhan’s daughter about the emergency, “all she would relate to me was there was something about a firecracker.”
Zinkhan and Bruce were still living together in the house with their children, Covington said.
Zinkhan, who has a doctorate from the University of Michigan, is a professor at UGA’s Terry College of Business and had no disciplinary problems, university spokesman Pete Konenkamp said. Before joining the school in the 1990s, he held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh.
“His track record is impeccable as far as his teaching credentials,” Konenkamp said. “He’s a respected professor on campus.”
The victims were all involved with the Town & Gown Players Inc., which had planned a Saturday evening performance of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.” The show was canceled after the shootings.
Tanner was set to be Dr. John Watson, and Teague described himself on a Web site as “a confirmed theater bum” for the group. Bruce, a family law attorney, had for years volunteered as a set designer and director.
Shane Clayton, a Town & Gown member, said the group was in shock, describing Bruce as “very outgoing, very high-spirited” and Tanner as a wonderful guy.
Athens attorney Ed Tolley said he and Bruce, who graduated from the University of Georgia’s law school, worked on cases together.
“She was a wonderful person,” Tolley said, “Redheaded, very attractive, very professional, and a wonderful mother.”
Dana Adams, who lives across the street from Zinkhan, said she didn’t know the family well, but described the professor as “kind of a strange character,” who would sometimes walk off in the middle of a conversation.
“But I would never suspect this,” she said.