Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Fri, 18 Jan 2002

Slain law school professor remembered for embracing secluded mountain town

Chris Kahn
The Associated Press

A law professor who left practices in big cities for this secluded mountain community was remembered Friday for how he touched lives here.

Thomas F. Blackwell, a 41-year-old Dallas native, was one of three people killed by a gunman Wednesday at the Appalachian School of Law.

“I would have taken that bullet for him,” high school buddy Andrew B. Sommerman told a crowd of about 300. “I loved him.”

Since the law school opened in the heart of Virginia coal country in 1997, administrators pushed faculty and students to embrace their host town. Blackwell did this perhaps better than anyone.

He worked with a county river cleanup project and helped build homes. The family participated in programs at the Mountain Mission School, an agency for children of extreme poverty. He and his wife sang in the choir at Buchanan First Presbyterian Church.

“At the moment he died, Tom was going about doing good,” the Rev. Miller Liston said.

Blackwell graduated from Duke University and worked as a corporate lawyer in Dallas and Chicago. But life in the big city wasn’t for him.

The Grundy job was perfect, said Sommerman, a lawyer from Dallas. “He knew every single one of his students. I’m not sure if you could have that at Duke,” he said.

Also slain Wednesday were L. Anthony Sutin, the school’s dean, and student Angela Dales, 33. Three students were wounded.

Former student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, who authorities said had recently flunked out of school a second time, faces three counts of capital murder and other charges. A preliminary hearing is March 21.

For two nights since the shootings, students, faculty and residents have gathered at churches and on the school lawn to embrace and cry.

Before the crowd left the church, Blackwell’s wife stood and thanked everyone.

“Y’all have become our family,” Lisa Blackwell said. “We have more love here than we could possibly have asked for.”

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