|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Wed, 16 Jan 2002
A student who had been dismissed from law school went on a shooting spree Wednesday, killing the school’s dean, a professor and a student before other students tackled him, officials said.
Three students were injured in the hail of gunfire.
L. Anthony Sutin, dean of the Appalachian School of Law, and Professor Thomas Blackwell were gunned down in their offices, according to school officials. The third person slain was student Angela Dales, 33, of Vansant, said State Police spokesman Mike Stater.
The suspect, Peter Odighizuwa, went to the school to meet with Sutin about his dismissal, which went into effect Wednesday, authorities said. Odighizuwa first stopped by the office of Professor Dale Rubin to talk about his grades, and as he left he reportedly asked Rubin to pray for him, Stater said.
Rubin, reached by telephone, declined to comment.
After visiting Rubin, Odighizuwa went to Sutin’s and Blackwell’s offices and shot them both with a .380-caliber pistol, Stater said.
Odighizuwa then went downstairs into a common area and opened fire on a crowd, said Dr. Jack Briggs, who has a private practice a half-mile from the school.
“When I got there there were bodies laying everywhere,” Briggs said.
Briggs said he had treated Odighizuwa in the past year. He described the Odighizuwa as a Nigerian who had flunked out last year and been allowed to return. Odighizuwa was known on campus as “Peter O” and was a naturalized U.S. citizen, authorities and students said.
He is being held in the Buchanan County Jail on three counts of capital murder and three counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, authorities said. Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Warner, said Odighizuwa, 42, had a history of mental instability that school officials were aware of.
After the shootings, Odighizuwa left the building and was tackled and held down by several male students, including 30-year-old Todd Ross of Johnson City, Tenn.
“He came out and walked down on the sidewalk, had his hands up in the air with the gun. At some point I yelled his name and told him to drop the gun and to get on the ground,” Ross said.
Odighizuwa dropped the gun, and another student then confronted him and distracted him.
“And then I ran across and tackled him,” Ross said.
Two or three other students then helped him subdue Odighizuwa.
Odighizuwa “struggled after we got him on the ground, but then just laid there,” Ross said. He said Odighizuwa kept shouting, ‘“I have nowhere to go. I have nowhere to go.”’
School president Lucius Ellsworth was in Richmond for a meeting with government officials Wednesday and flew back to Grundy when he learned about the shootings.
“Each of us is suffering, but as a family, we can find strength to pass through this terrible dark and tragic valley,” he told reporters at an evening news conference.
Hospital officials identified the three wounded students as Rebecca Brown, 38, of Roanoke; Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy; and Stacy Beans, 22, of Berea, Ky. Amy Stevens, a spokeswoman for Wellmont Health Systems, said Short was in fair condition, and Beans and Brown were in fair condition after surgery Wednesday evening.
Justin Marlowe, a first-year law student from Richwood, W.Va., said the suspect had been in all of his classes.
“He was a real quiet guy who kept to himself. He didn’t talk to anybody, but he gave no indication that he was capable of something like this,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe said Odighizuwa had flunked out of school a year ago and “the dean bent over backwards to get him enrolled again.”
Blackwell, the professor who was killed, taught classes in contracts that Odighizuwa took during the fall and winter up to the time of his dismissal, students said.
The private law school has an enrollment of about 170 students. It will be closed the remainder of the week, officials said. Local elementary, middle and high schools were locked down for an hour after the shootings.
Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, also was an associate professor at the school. He left a Justice Department position as an assistant attorney general to found the school after working for the Democratic National Committee and Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, according to the Web site of Jurist, the Legal Education Network.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Sutin’s wife, Margaret, their two children and to all of their family and friends,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft.
“The entire Department of Justice is mourning the loss of a dedicated public servant who served the Department of Justice with distinction, integrity and honor.”
The school opened five years ago in a renovated junior high school in Grundy, a town of about 1,100 just a few miles south of the Kentucky and West Virginia state lines.
School founders hope to ease a shortage of lawyers in the coalfields of southwest Virginia, help change the region’s image and foster renewal in Appalachia. The American Bar Association rejected the school’s first application for accreditation in 1999.
The school graduated its first class of 34 in 2000. There are about 15 faculty members, including alumni of law schools at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia, Harvard and Howard universities.
“You read about it in other areas, but when it comes home it really hurts,” said state Del. Jackie Stump of Grundy, fighting back tears as he hung his head and walked away from a news conference in Richmond.