MOSCOW--The director of a computer-science institute in western Russia yesterday shot dead four colleagues, his wife, and himself. Sources suggest the tragedy stems from the institute's desperate financial straits: Recently, the director had been criticized for his failure to seek new funding sources.
At about noon yesterday, the 64-year-old director of the Institute for Informatics Problems (IIBK), Karen Zhamogortsyan, shot two deputies and two department chiefs in his office in Kazan, a city on the Volga River east of Moscow. Soon afterward, Zhamogortsyan drove his wife to a local hospital, where he shot her and himself. Police found a short note next to Zhamogortsyan's body, but it did not reveal a motive for the killings, says Kazan police chief Nurgayan Akbarov. The fatal shooting was the second in Russian science in 3 weeks: The head of a major nuclear weapons laboratory in Chelyabinsk, apparently distressed over poor funding, killed himself on 31 October.
The killings took place in an atmosphere of discontent, ScienceNOW has learned. A few months ago, the institute staffers who were shot--Lev Schtilman and Yakov Burman, both deputies to Zhamogortsyan, and department chiefs Mikhail Nemirovsky and Yelena Orlovskaya--had written to the Russian Academy of Sciences requesting a review of IIBK. Sources say that they and other institute staff were unhappy with the fact that Zhamogortsyan, who established IIBK a decade ago, had resisted outside contracts. Staffers wanted to sign private computer software development agreements to supplement their wages, currently running about $37 a month. According to IIBK deputy director Ildar Nasyrov, Zhamogortsyan "was doing whatever he wanted, making the most stupid arrangements, without listening to his colleagues."
The academy agreed to conduct the highly unusual review, which was meant to advise the institute on steps to improve funding and morale. An academy panel last week recommended that IIBK hold elections for a new director next month--which effectively would have forced Zhamogortsyan into retirement. According to Akbarov, Zhamogortsyan yesterday summoned the staff who had requested the review to his office, purportedly to discuss the review's findings. Then he shot them.