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Ala. University Shooting Victim Recovering Slowly

Joseph Leahy's successes come little by little these days.

Standing for 30 seconds without becoming disoriented is a win. Talking in a clear, strong voice despite a tracheotomy incision in his windpipe is another.

Before Feb. 12, when gunfire shattered an afternoon faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Leahy was known as an approachable, concerned biology teacher who could engage students on the most complex of topics.

Today, he is recovering from a mass shooting that killed three colleagues and injured two others. The accused shooter, a fellow faculty member, now sits in jail facing potential death penalty charges.

Leahy and a staff assistant in the biology department, Steffi Monticciolo, remain hospitalized nearly three weeks after suffering bullet wounds to the head. Authorities say another professor, Amy Bishop, opened fire after stewing for months over being denied tenure at UAH.

The third survivor, professor Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera, suffered less severe wounds and spent one night in the hospital. He returned to work the week after the shootings, a university spokesman said.

Monticciolo remains at Huntsville Hospital. Relatives have asked administrators there not to release any information on her condition. She is improving little by little, according to public Internet postings by her family.

Leahy's relatives have provided more extensive details on his condition, using a blog to update friends, relatives and the media on his improvement.

A Roman Catholic with a wife and two college-age sons, Leahy is an associate professor of biological sciences at UAH. Students describe him as a great teacher who really cares.

"He is very available to help students who are struggling or who want a little extra help," said Loren Marino, a 2008 graduate. "He is by no means a pushover. He works very hard in his classes and he expects you to do the same. If you do well, you have earned your grade."

In the laboratory, Leahy has researched the way bacteria and other elements in the environment break down hydrocarbons found in gasoline and other petroleum products. He wants to understand how nature eliminates such substances.

Two days after being shot, Leahy was struggling just to survive. He lifted up a finger and showed two fingers on command; he bent his knee and squeezed the hand of one of his sons. It was Sunday, a day of hope that there would be another day.

"My brother is a fighter and he's strong," wrote his sister, Lisa Leahy Scherer.

On Feb. 17, as Leahy remained in critical condition in Alabama, the public address announcer at the Ohio State-Purdue basketball game more than 500 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, asked fans to pause quietly in honor of Leahy, an Ohio State graduate and fan.

"It was a wonderful moment for Joe's many friends and extended family members who were at the game," said Mark Scherer, Lisa's husband, in a note on the blog.

Leahy had a breakthrough nine days after the shooting: He wrote with a marker, pulled his wife Ginny close to him and responded to a nurse by waving at his family.

With his condition steadily improving, Leahy underwent an operation to repair damage to his cheek and jaw. The next day he wrote his full name, despite not being able to open his right eye and being nearsighted in his left.

The progress has continued, and Leahy was listed in good condition in neurointensive care at Huntsville Hospital.

Relatives were preparing for Leahy's biggest step yet. He was to be transferred by ambulance to Atlanta on Wednesday for more treatment and rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center, which specializes in brain injuries.

Leahy still sleeps much of the day, and the stay at Shepherd could be challenging; patients undergo six hours of rehabilitation, five days a week.

But the hospital has a separate residential area for relatives of patients, and Leahy's wife and some relatives will be there with him. Leahy's sister said it's uncertain how long the professor will be in Atlanta, but some things are clear.

"It truly is a miracle that Joe survived," she wrote.

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