Transferred from school to school, Charles Bishop formed few, if any, lasting friendships.
By CHUCK MURPHY,ROBERT FARLEY and CURTIS KRUEGER
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2002
Any effort to determine why Charles Bishop flew a plane into an office building last month might begin in his schools -- all 12 of them.
That's how many different places Charles, 15, was enrolled during his 10 years of formal education. Four were in Massachusetts, four in Georgia and four in Florida.
Interviews and records in all three states indicate that he never spent two full consecutive years in the same school. He attended two schools each for four of his grades -- kindergarten, first, second and fourth.
It's a record that makes a military life seem stable by comparison. And it produced a predictable result: a rootless child with few, if any, long-lasting friendships among kids his age. His funeral eulogy was given by a classmate who had known him for just four months.
Charles' mother, Julia Bishop, and grandmother, Karen Johnson, have declined all requests for interviews. They are estranged from Charles' father and his family, and from Julia's father. The family's attorney, Pam Campbell of St. Petersburg, has refused to reveal the reasons Bishop or Johnson give for the frequent moves.
Law enforcement officials from four agencies, who are still investigating the circumstances of Charles' apparent suicide mission, have not completed their work. They will not comment on what Julia Bishop told them about her family's peripatetic life.
So what is known about Charles' life comes from the records left at his schools and from Emerson Favreau, one of the few people outside Charles' family who can claim to have known him at all, even if it was for just a few months.
Emerson said the common bond of frequent relocation drew him and Charles together. The son of an Air Force sergeant, Emerson moved seven times before landing at East Lake High School.
All kids face the adjustment of meeting new people in high school, but most know at least a group of students from one of several middle schools that feed East Lake. Emerson, 15, moved from North Carolina; Charles, also 15, from Dunedin Academy.
"He told me he moved a lot," Emerson said. "He said he would just get used to being somewhere and then his mom would say, 'We're moving here now.' "
And Charles told Emerson that, sadly, he expected to be moving again soon.
"He was saying he didn't know if he'd be back at East Lake next year," Emerson said. "He said, 'My mom might have to move.' "
According to lawyer Campbell, Charles' mother left her job the night before he stole the plane and died. She refuses to say where Julia Bishop worked.
Psychiatrists say the constant movement, combined with an episode in Julia Bishop's past in which she entered an unsuccessful suicide pact with the man who would become Charles' father, offer possible clues for those seeking reasons for Charles' Jan. 5 decision.
With the kind of mobility Charles experienced, "it becomes practically impossible to develop a stable enough situation to where he can relate to other adolescents," said Dr. Humberto Nagera, a professor of psychiatry at the University of South Florida.
Just hours after the $150,000 Cessna 172R slammed into the side of the Bank of America Plaza in Tampa, East Lake High principal Clayton Snare was asked for his thoughts about the boy.
"I don't know him," Snare replied.
He is not alone. In school after school, teachers and principals who were around when Charles Bishop passed through had no memory of him.
At Muraco Elementary in Winchester, Mass., the staff searched yearbooks to confirm that Charles had gone to first and part of second grade there. A retired first-grade teacher remembered the name, but nothing about him.
Though he spoke to Emerson about friends back in Massachusetts, none have come forward since Charles' death. Even at Dunedin Academy, where he attended eighth grade and had some acquaintances, he doesn't appear to have visited other kids' homes or had them over to his.
"He was a quiet kid. No one picked on him," said Jason Hyde, a former classmate there.
That doesn't surprise psychiatrists who work with troubled teens.
Certain teens are good at hiding their struggles, "particularly with highly functioning kids who are very conscientious, who don't want anyone to see them in any way flawed. It's not always easy to read everyone's minds," said Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She wrote a bestselling memoir of her own manic depression, including a suicide attempt.
Afterwards, "there's this response of, well, gosh, this doesn't seem to make any sense because he seemed to have everything going for (him)," said Peter Gutierrez, an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University who researches causes of adolescent suicide.
This is true even of youths who suffer from mental illnesses, as do more than 90 percent of those who kill themselves.
"We're pretty sure they believe it's the only solution to their problems . . . so in their mind suicide really does make sense because it's a way to stop the psychological pain that they're in," said Gutierrez, a board member of the American Association of Suicidology.
Dr. David Shaffer was intrigued to hear Charles' flight took place during the holidays, two days before Pinellas schools reopened. Suicides happen around this time with anxious, perfectionist youths who fear failure, he said.
"They often have concern about returning to school or some event coming up and so they're more likely to commit suicide around about the beginning of the semester," said Shaffer, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University and past president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Shaffer said a history of suicidal behavior by parents or siblings increases someone's chance of suicidal behavior by two to four times.
Shaffer added that close friends can become one of the best preventions for adolescent suicide attempts. All experts interviewed for this story said the Bishops' frequent moves could only make it difficult for a teenager to form a strong circle of friends.
Emerson Favreau said he has learned from Charles' mother that his friend was on his computer on the morning before his fateful flight. Emerson now wishes he had logged on that morning, too.
"I'm sure he would have clued me in," Emerson said.
Then, he said, maybe he could have prevented it from happening.
-- Times staff writers Bill Adair, Amy Herdy, Tamara Lush and Alicia Caldwell and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.