Appalachian School of Law Shootings
       

You can see the part of each story below that mentions how Peter O. was captured here, while an index is here

Mon, 21 Jan 2002

Blue-collar Appalachian community embraces its new law school in time of crisis

Chris Kahn
The Associated Press

It seemed like a risky proposition: building a law school in a small struggling coal town isolated by the rugged Appalachian Mountains.

But with area mines closing and the young moving away to find work, town officials pushed ahead, opening the Appalachian School of Law in 1997 inside an old brick school house.

“We needed this, anything that could help,” said W.H. Trivett, 77, mayor of the blue-collar town of about 1,100.

It took time for the new students to gain acceptance in the close-knit community where many residents’ families had lived for generations.

“We had to get used to people from different cultures living here - and they had to get used to us,” said Richie Mullins, 35, who sells law school text books out of his bicycle store on Main Street.

But any lingering doubts students and faculty may have had about their neighbors’ feelings disappeared last week as the town responded after a disgruntled former student allegedly walked into the school and shot to death the dean, a professor and a student.

In the days that followed, signs of support appeared throughout Grundy.

“ASL our thoughts and prayers are with you,” read a banner in the parking lot of Rife’s TV.

A grocery in nearby Vansant donated ham biscuits, cookies and soda pop to the Baptist church for a memorial service.

Loweda Gillespie, 61, tied yellow ribbons around store fronts, telephone poles and trees.

“We wanted to let them know we’re family,” Gillespie said.

Dean L. Anthony Sutin, 42, and Professor Tom Blackwell, 41, were slain in their offices Wednesday. Law student Angela Dales, 33, died later at the hospital. Three other students were wounded.

The gunfire sent terrified students running from the building before classmates tackled the alleged shooter. Peter Odighizuwa, 43, who had been dismissed from the school because of failing grades, is charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons charges. The prosecutor said she will seek the death penalty.

Residents attended memorial services throughout the week, placing flowers on the school’s concrete sign as victims’ families and friends wept in small, shivering circles.

“It’s so heartwarming to see this,” school president Lucius Ellsworth said Saturday. “There’s no doubt that out of this tragedy, this community has united.”

For decades, officials wanted to build a law school in southwest Virginia to create jobs and provide a legal resource for the remote mountain area.

“In all rural areas, there is a real lack of legal education,” said Ellsworth, a former education official in Tennessee and vice chancellor of Clinch Valley College in Wise. Before the law school came to Grundy, there was no other law school within a three-hour drive.

The Appalachian School of Law now has about 200 students. The American Bar Association granted it provisional accreditation last year. And everyone at the school - students and faculty alike - is required to support the town with 25 hours of community service per term.

Students, many of whom are older and looking for a second career, tutor Grundy school children.

“These kids, the way they’re allowed to work with the public, I’m sure they’re getting a better education than they could in other places,” Trivett said.

Among the faculty, Blackwell was one of the most involved. His children regularly helped out at the Mountain Mission School, a local agency for orphans and children of extreme poverty. He and his wife, Lisa, sang in a church choir, and he was on a committee to find a new pastor.

“Y’all have become our family,” Lisa Blackwell said at a memorial service for her husband Friday. “We have more love here than we could possibly have asked for.”

Blackwell’s funeral was planned for Monday in Dallas, where the family lived before moving to Grundy. A private memorial service for Sutin was held Sunday at the local high school.

“He came to Grundy because he thought he could use his talents to help people in Appalachia, and to help boost the economy of a small coal town,” said Kent Markus, Sutin’s former Harvard Law School roommate and one of about 500 people who attended the service. “He was trying to help the sons and grandsons of coal miners.”

At the law school, classes were expected to resume Tuesday. The faculty shuffled around schedules to cover Blackwell’s classes, and Paul Lund, who has been assistant dean, was appointed to fill Sutin’s role until a new dean can be hired.

“As horrific as this has been, I’m certain the institution will be stronger,” Ellsworth said.

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Two wounded in Va. law school shooting released from hospital


The Associated Press

Two students wounded in a shooting rampage at the Appalachian School of Law last week have been released from a hospital.

Rebecca Brown, 38, and Martha Madeline Short, 37, were discharged Sunday from Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn., said hospital spokeswoman Amy Stevens.

A third student, Stacey Beans, 22, was upgraded from fair to good condition.

Stevens said all three were expected to make a full recovery.

The school’s dean, L. Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell and student Angela Dales, 33, were slain in the spree.

Student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, has been charged with murder and attempted murder. Police said he had recently flunked out of school.

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Va. Law Students Leave Hospital


Associated Press Online

Two students wounded in a shooting rampage at the Appalachian School of Law last week have been released from a hospital.

Rebecca Brown, 38, and Martha Madeline Short, 37, were discharged Sunday from Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn., said hospital spokeswoman Amy Stevens.

A third student, Stacey Beans, 22, was upgraded from fair to good condition.

Stevens said all three were expected to make a full recovery.

The school’s dean, L. Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell and student Angela Dales, 33, were slain in the spree.

Student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, has been charged with murder and attempted murder. Police said he had recently flunked out of school.

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Waynesboro native recalls shooting

Dawn Linsner
The Daily News Leader (Staunton, VA)

Seidle heard gunshots

By Dawn Linsner

Staff Writer

WAYNESBORO - “Go, go, go … now!” shouted David Seidle’s classmate, bursting through the doors of the computer lab just after lunch Wednesday afternoon.

The frantic warning was the last thing the Appalachian School of Law student expected to hear after settling down at a de-stressing computer game after lunch at the McDonald’s down the street Jan. 16.

But within minutes, Seidle was rushing out of the building through a back exit and into a parking lot, where he crouched behind cars for protection.

“We heard three or four big bangs and then we kind of thought it was over, but then there were a couple more, so we kept going,” said Seidle, 23, a second-year student at the college where another student killed three people Wednesday.

“When something so foreign is happening right beside you, you just act on instinct.”

Seidle, a Waynesboro native, was in disbelief when he learned that his professor, Thomas Blackwell; L. Anthony Sutin, dean; and classmate, Angela Dales, were slain in the rampage.

“Everybody knows everybody here … and we pretty much get along despite our differing political views,” he said.

According to the Associated Press, former student Peter Odighizuwa opened fire, killing three and injuring three other students after his notice of his dismissal from the school.

“Peter O,” as he was known to classmates, was being held in the Buchanan County Jail on three counts of capital murder and three counts of the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

When Seidle’s parents got his phone message about the incident, they made the five-hour drive to meet Seidle and his friends in Grundy.

After four days of candlelight vigils, memorial services and lots of talking, Seidle said he and his close-knit second family of 170 students are ready to hear definitive news about the continuance of classes - both Blackwell and Sutin were teaching this semester - and safety at the school.

“They have really pulled together in this tiny town with only one street and a small school,” said Seidle’s mother, Martha.

The tragedy rocked the intimate school and small town more than it might have a large university, Martha Seidle said. The perpetrator wrote occasionally for the underground student newspaper that her son co-edits.

“He’s been to a few parties here, and I used to sit behind him in some classes,” Seidle said.

He fears that some of his classmates and friends will leave the school because of the incident but hopes they won’t because they are all each others’ support system.

“I’m confident that we’ll bounce back from this and that it won’t mean the end of the school,” he said.

Gradual Return

n Appalachian School of Law will reopen Tuesday, when staff, students and community members meet to discuss coping strategies for the rest of the year.

n Regular classes will resume for the 170-person student body Wednesday.

Inside

n Community embraces law school.

Page A3 A

The Associated Press

The hallways of the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy were deserted Friday afternoon.

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APPALACHIAN LAW DEAN REMEMBERED FOR HIS WIT

Associated Press
Daily Press (Newport News, VA)

Friends and colleagues said they will remember the dean of the Appalachian School of Law for being a brilliant lawyer, but the fondest memories, they said, will be of his wit.

L. Anthony Sutin, 42, was one of three people shot to death Wednesday by a disgruntled student at the small law school in the mountains of western Virginia. v

“He came to Grundy because he thought he could use his talents to help people in Appalachia, and to help boost the economy of a small coal town,” said Kent Markus, a former Harvard Law School roommate and one of about 500 people who attended a private memorial service Sunday afternoon in an auditorium at Grundy High School. “He was trying to help the sons and grandsons of coal miners.”

Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, left a position at the U.S. Department of Justice to help start the fledgling school to ease a shortage of lawyers in the region and to foster economic renewal in Appalachia.

Former Attorney General Janet Reno said Sutin had a knack for lightening intense moments with his humor.

“Tony could make me laugh at the tensest of moments,” she said in a letter read at the memorial service. “He could make me smile in the saddest. And he knew just which to do and when to do it.”

Sutin held several positions in the Justice Department between 1994 and 1999. He first founded and served as deputy director of the Community Oriented Policing Services, which was created to carry out former President Clinton’s effort to put 100,000 more officers on the streets.

He was serving as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs when he left the Justice Department.

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KILLINGS ROCK PEACEFUL TOWN

William Turner
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, NC)

Peter Odighizuwa left his impoverished homeland of Nigeria nearly 20 years ago, seeking, like others before him, the American Dream.

Two years ago, he found his way from Chicago to the coalfields of southwest Virginia. His purpose was to attend the Appalachian School of Law, founded by people who envisioned a need for a center of learning and a way to bring economic development into this impoverished region.

Since its founding in 1994, the tiny law school in a former junior high school has become a magnet, drawing to its two-building campus an unusually diverse mix of faculty and students, most outsiders from the coal country. Odighizuwa was one of about 200 students, being led into the legal profession through a curriculum that emphasized community service and conflict resolution. Odighizuwa shattered that dream last Wednesday when he shot and killed three, including the law school’s dean, and wounded three others in a tragedy that left this community and law school reeling, asking why, and wondering about their future.

Grundy is a tiny town of about 1,300 tucked into the razor-back hills of southwest Virginia. It is hard to get to, and hard to forget.

Zeke Jackson, a second-year student and president of the law school’s Black Law Students Association, said: “Peter was welcomed here, like the rest of us, with open arms by people who go out of their way to help us - this law school and town embraced Peter and his family because they were strapped, maybe more than most of us.

“This is a second-chance school, with a first-class faculty, and the people around here take to you, once they know you’re a student here. This whole thing is a real setback for everybody. If only I had known he was that far out, I would have done something,” Jackson said.

Odighizuwa and his wife and children were known throughout the town. He was called “Peter O.” He worked at the Food City, and his wife worked at the local hospital.

Those who share the law school’s dream are trying to figure out what went wrong. James Wayne Childress, a lawyer and graduate of the law school’s first class, said, “This calamity runs against the thread of our basic mission, which stresses how the law is an instrument for alternative conflict resolution.”

Childress described himself as “a country lawyer,” and he is a member of the school’s Alumni Association board. Like others involved with the school, he worries that the shooting will harm the school’s reputation and efforts to help the local economy, which “was just getting beyond growing pains.”

Sue Ella Kobak, a local lawyer who defends indigent clients, said that the tragedy “reinforces the image of Appalachia as a violent place.”

To her, “the bigger picture is more important, the lesson to be learned from this, how law schools, everywhere, put an inordinate amount of competitive pressure on students.”

Odighizuwa is said to have been disgruntled because he had been expelled from the law school for bad grades.

Odighizuwa is black, his victims white. But most students said that race wasn’t a factor in the shootings.

Kenneth Brown, a first-year student and graduate of N.C. Central University in Durham, said: “I came here thinking this was hood country, as in the hoods the KKK wears, but I have found this to be a most welcoming place. There is nothing racial about the fact that all of the victims of Peter’s crime were white. This is just another, the latest human tragedy, only magnified by where it took place.”

At a memorial service last week, mourners started with a prayer, read aloud in unison: “Almighty God. Give us all new life, new laughter, new awareness of the beauty of life. Raise us up, as images of hope to the despairing, and bring us to a softness in a world hardened by evil.”

Later that day, Childress put the prayer in simpler terms, more in keeping with the humble surroundings of Grundy and its little law school.

“When the fan blades get cleaned off and things cool down,” he said, “we’re going to be a stronger and better law school and community because of this.”

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Two wounded released from hospital


The Associated Press State & Local Wire

Two students wounded in a shooting rampage at the Appalachian School of Law last week have been released from a hospital.

Rebecca Brown, 38, of Roanoke, and Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Clintwood, were discharged Sunday from Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn., said hospital spokeswoman Amy Stevens.

A third student, Stacey Beans, 22, of Paducah, Ky., was upgraded from fair to good condition.

Stevens said all three were expected to make a full recovery.

The school’s dean, L. Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell and student Angela Dales were slain in the shooting spree.

Student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, a native of Nigeria, is charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons counts in the shootings. Police said Odighizuwa had recently flunked out of school.

The private law school, which opened five years ago in a renovated junior high school, has an enrollment of about 200 students.

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