A Nova Southeastern University professor who spent his promising career trying to cure cancer was murdered during an apparent home invasion in his usually quiet Plantation suburb in the middle of the night.
Dr. Joseph Morrissey, 46, was tied up and shot before his house was set on fire by an armed man, according to reports. His wife, Linda, was also tied up but escaped the home with the couple's 5-year-old son. Police say the "robber" is at large, though there is no description at this point other than he is a man.
Morrissey's colleagues are left stunned and full of questions.
"This is just stunning," said David Gazze, a fellow professor at NSU's College of Pharmacy. "We only had him here for a year, but in that time, he was one of the great all-time people. You couldn't ask for a better guy. He was just superhappy, supercompetent, an outstanding communicator, very clear -- we all just loved him, basically. Based on what we know of him, there is no way that anybody could
have any evil intent toward this man. It's just impossible."
The crime makes no sense.
"There are so many questions we all have here," said Gazze, who spoke with me by phone from his office at NSU. "If you have him tied up, why shoot him? If you shot him, why the gasoline? It's just strange."
Morrissey, shown again at left, had recently been hired full-time at the school, said Gazze. Morrissey had previously worked at Motorola and before that at the Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research in Plantation. When the defunct Sunshine Magazine wrote a feature on Goodwin in 1993, it included this passage about Morrissey:
Dr. Joseph Morrissey, a molecular biologist who studied biochemical pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, worked at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and just finished work on his doctorate at Stanford.
Like several other Goodwin staffers, he was drawn to South Florida by the climate and by the fact that family members have already settled here from up north.
"Dr. Morrissey adds a whole new dimension," Thuning-Roberson says. "He allows us to look at the DNA level and begin to identify genes that are responsible for the induction of cancer and its metastasis, as well as ways to be able to control or turn off those genes in the treatment of cancer."
Gazze said that Morrissey was working on cutting-edge cancer research.
"He was working on these radio-frequency waves that could very specifically heat up certain cells by .1 centigrade and target certain tissues," Gazze told me. "What he was looking at was whether this could make anti-cancer drugs more effective by heating up these tissues. He had done a lot of work at Motorola on some very similar research -- using radio waves to raise tissue temperatures."
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Morrissey and his wife had purchased their home at 601 NW 75th Terrace in the Planation Secluded Gardens neighborhood for $393,000 in 2006. As its name suggests, it's a quiet neighborhood, and it's not far from his old workplace at Motorola.
"All I can tell you is he was a great, great person," said Hamid Omidian, a fellow assistant professor in pharmaceutical sciences. "Everybody here liked him very much."