Appalachian School of Law Shootings
       

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Fri, 18 Jan 2002

Slain professor had local ties

Peyton D. Woodson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)

BENBROOK - While juggling calls from reporters, the owner of Benbrook Funeral Home spent Thursday preparing arrangements for a friend of 25 years.

Associate professor Thomas Blackwell, a longtime North Texas resident, was one of three people fatally shot Wednesday at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va.

Funeral director Kate Moore has known Blackwell and his wife, Lisa, since they were students at Western Hills High School. Once during a phone interview, she paused to talk to someone else about e-mailing Lisa Blackwell pictures of casket models.

“I knew when I came back to my hometown and opened a funeral home I’d have to bury friends and family,” Moore said. “But nothing prepares you for the violence of this death.”

Blackwell’s funeral will be at 2 p.m. Monday at the King of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas.

Authorities in Grundy say Peter Odighizuwa, 43, opened fire with a handgun at the school a day after he was expelled for a second time.

Blackwell and L. Anthony Sutin, a school dean, were slain in their offices. Student Angela Dales, 33, died later at a hospital.

Three other students were wounded.

Blackwell, who was born Jan. 13, 1961, graduated from Western Hills High School in 1978 and from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Duke University School of Law.

He practiced business law in Dallas as an associate with Jenkins & Gilchrist and later opened his own law firm.

From 1995 to 1997, Blackwell taught legal writing, analysis and research to first-year students at the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. He then went to the Chicago Kent Law School and finally to the Appalachian School of Law, where he was an associate professor of law.

Thomas Trahan, an assistant director of the legal writing program at Wesleyan, first met Blackwell when they practiced law in Dallas. They were also choir members at the King of Glory church.

“He was extremely bright,” Trahan said. “He could cut to the heart of a problem better than anyone I knew. He was a very successful lawyer, who gave that up to teach others.

“He dedicated himself to the Appalachian School of Law to bring legal education to a part of the country that traditionally had been economically deprived. He believed in the mission of that school.”

Blackwell and his wife also had a humorous side, Trahan said.

They gave their three children - Zebadiah, 14, Jillian, 12, and Ezekiel, 10, - especially long first and middle names so they wouldn’t fit in the allotted spaces on standardized test exams, he said.

“Tom was the class clown,” Moore said. “He was a cut-up.

But he was exactly the person you wanted to be there if you needed something. He was a wonderful person.”

Moore recalled that the Blackwells’ first date ended in a car accident that left him in the hospital with several broken bones.

His future wife stayed by his bedside throughout his recovery.

“He missed almost half the school year and he still graduated valedictorian,” Moore said.

Blackwell could have attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Trahan said, but chose to attend college closer to home because Lisa Blackwell was attending Baylor University in Waco.

Moore said she and Lisa Blackwell were in each others’ weddings, which were a week apart.

Blackwell will be buried in Hamilton County near the family’s ranch, Moore said.

In addition to his wife and children, survivors include his mother, Margaret Cantrell of Benbrook; a sister, Rebecca Miller of Kentucky; and a brother, David Blackwell of Florida.

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