|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Sat, 19 Jan 2002
Faced with academic disappointment, they seek solutions with loaded guns. Students, professors and administrators become their victims.
The scene played out again this week at the Appalachian School of Law, in Grundy. Police say Peter Odighizuwa, expelled for the second time because of bad grades, went to the school and killed three people - the school dean, a respected professor and a student - and wounded three others. The survivors remained in fair condition Friday.
Such acts have been rare in U.S. history. But a Radford University professor said he won’t be surprised to hear of more, particularly where great academic expectations lead to high stress and classroom failure.
“College campuses are wide open,” said Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford, who studies workplace and school violence. “Anyone can get on. Anyone can bring weapons and can get access to professors.
“And every student has a backpack.”
Hard numbers about campus shootings are not available, Burke said. But as he and a partner attempt to launch a full-scale study of the issue, they have gathered some anecdotal evidence of students bullying and threatening professors over academic issues, he said.
He likened it to workplace violence, even though it doesn’t happen nearly as often.
Once was enough for people at San Diego State University and the University of Iowa.
Bill Fuhrmeister, then public safety director at Iowa, remembered the case of Gang Lu when he heard about the shootings in Grundy.
“It sort of brought back flash memories of Nov. 1 of 1991, and of how rapidly tragedy can happen in a spur-of-the-moment type thing,” Fuhrmeister said.
Gang had already earned his doctorate in physics, and was no longer a student. But he reacted violently, killing five people in two buildings, after learning that members of the school’s physics and astronomy department passed over his dissertation paper for a coveted academic honor. Ten minutes after he began firing, he turned the gun on himself.
The killings at San Diego State University five years later also were surprising to those who knew of gunman Frederick Martin Davidson, because Davidson was not considered a failure, said Jan Andersen, associate dean of the school’s graduate division.
“Not too much has ever really come out except that he just cracked - absolutely couldn’t handle the pressure of what he perceived to be failure,” Andersen said.
But Davidson didn’t even allow time for faculty to critique his work before pulling a 9mm handgun he had stowed in a first-aid kit and firing at least 23 times. One of his victims, 32-year-old Chen Liang, formerly was a teacher at Virginia Tech.
The random unpredictability of such events at those schools did not lead to revamped public safety plans, officials said.
“You can’t just lock up the first-aid kits,” said John Carpenter, police chief at San Diego State.
“There was no consensus,” he said of attempts to prevent similar crimes. “There was nothing that could be done short of making our campus a fortress, and you can’t do that.”
Nor did Iowa make any major changes to a police force that does not carry firearms. Iowa City police are called to any scene that might require deadly force, said Charles Green, assistant vice president and director of public safety.
But students, faculty and staff became more vigilant in noticing and reporting people they thought might be troubled, and getting them help quickly, he said.
“Certainly the climate of the campus changed, in that things that people take for granted in times past, they don’t now,” Green said.
Both schools have built team approaches to identifying and helping troubled students, officials said.
“I think all of us try to treat people and their problems and do what we can to help, because we never really know what individual is on the point of losing it,” said Andersen, of San Diego State.
Neither school has seen a similar act of violence. But even as those officials discussed their situations Friday, news broke of another campus shooting, this time at a Florida community college. That, coupled with the Grundy shootings, could bring a new look at campus safety, they said.
Whatever changes occur, they probably won’t include insulating university community members from each other, said Burke, the Radford professor.
“We are not going to advocate barricading professors,” he said. “That is not the purpose of a teaching institution. We cannot live in fear, and that includes professors, students and staff.”