|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Fri, 18 Jan 2002
FRUSTRATION, alienation and a gun.
The same lethal mix that explodes in mass slayings with some regularity in communities across the United States came together Wednesday in Appalachia. It left three people dead and the public with a sense of bewildered loss dismaying in its familiarity.
Here is yet another “senseless act of violence” - one that is cause for particular grief in Southwest Virginia.
Partly, this is because the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy were all too close to home. True, the little coalfield town is tucked away in isolated far Southwest, hours by car from Roanoke or Virginia Tech, the region’s major city and major university.
But in far-flung, geographically diverse Virginia, the ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains define a region, and Grundy is part of it.
Mainly, though, people familiar with the hard times afflicting Virginia’s coalfields might regard Wednesday’s slayings as particularly poign-
ant because of the nature of the victims and the work they were doing.
Anthony Sutin, dean of the Appalachian School of Law, was a professionally accomplished public servant who left booming Northern Virginia to lead a tiny, new law school in one of the most economically depressed areas of the state.
The distance between Washington, where he held a post in the Justice Department, and Grundy can be measured in more than miles. But the path seems natural for someone whom a colleague described not only as brilliant but as committed to working for the poor.
Another of the shooting victims was Thomas Blackwell, remembered Wednesday as a tough professor, but one willing to work long hours to make himself available to students so that they might succeed. The third, student Angela Dales, at one time was a recruiter for the school. She was a single mother taking her bite at the opportunity it offered.
Every slain victim who leaves behind family and friends is mourned in a personal way by people who feel each loss acutely, in ways even sympathetic strangers cannot know.
To the bereavement of the victims’ families and friends add, in this case, the loss to a newly established institution and all the hope a community has vested in it for greater opportunity.
Peter Odighizuwa, the man police have charged with the shootings, is a naturalized American from Nigeria. Perhaps that is what prompted state police to declare that the shootings were “absolutely not connected to terrorism in any way, shape or form.”
Of course not. America has witnessed this kind of horror before Sept. 11, and will witness it again. Such tragedies raise public policy questions about guns and mental health care and who has access to what. But debate about such issues must await another day, when more is known about this latest case.
Grundy already knows the nature of its loss, and it is grievous.