Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Fri, 18 Jan 2002

Shattered town mourns ‘irreplaceable’ victims

Chris Kahn
The Associated Press State & Local Wire

Mourners lit tiny white candles, passing the flame wick to wick in a quiet, shivering circle.

One day after gunfire killed three people and shattered the serenity of this tiny mountain town, students from the Appalachian School of Law and the community they call home wearily watched the glow, lost in their agony and questions of “why?”

“We are standing tonight on sacred ground,” Professor Stewart Harris told the crowd of about 250 mourners who had assembled Thursday on the school’s front lawn. “Innocent blood was shed here.”

Peter Odighizuwa, 43, a troubled law student who had recently flunked out of school, opened fire with a handgun at the school on Wednesday, police said.

Dean L. Anthony Sutin and Professor Thomas Blackwell were slain in their offices and student Angela Dales, 33, died later at a hospital. Three other students were wounded.

Prosecutor Sheila Tolliver already has said she will seek the death penalty - a goal that some law students have trouble accepting.

Cristy Cooper, 23, a first-year student from Dresden, Tenn., said she hopes Odighizuwa can avoid execution, even though he killed three others.

“I still think it’s morally wrong to kill,” Cooper said. “I’ve always been against capital punishment.”

William R. Sievers, 25, president of the school’s Student Bar Association, said he doesn’t want to think about Odighizuwa or his fate. “I just want to be with the people here and help them in any way I can,” Sievers said.

Odighizuwa, a native of Nigeria, faces three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons charges.

Earlier in the day, Odighizuwa told a judge that he was sick and needed help.

“I was supposed to see my doctor,” Odighizuwa said, hiding his face behind a green arrest warrant. “He was supposed to help me out … I don’t have my medication.”

Kenneth Brown, 28, said his friends always joked that Odighizuwa was one of those guys who would finally crack and bring a gun to school.

“He was kind of off-balance,” Brown said. “When we met last year, he actually came up and shook my hand and asked my name. Then, like five minutes later he came back and said, ‘You know I’m not crazy, but people tick me off sometimes.’ Out of the blue.”

Odighizuwa was arrested on Aug. 15 for allegedly assaulting his wife. The police report said he hit her in the face, bruising her right eye.

He also repeatedly approached police with concerns about people breaking into his house on the outskirts of this small town in western Virginia. Chief Deputy Randall Ashby said Odighizuwa would file complaints and regularly nitpick with deputies over the wording of the reports they filed.

Grundy, a gritty coal town of about 1,100 in the shadow of two great mountain ridges, has long been isolated from violent crime, Rev. Stan Parris said at an afternoon memorial at the Grundy Baptist Church. He asked the crowd of a few hundred to pray and reassured them that “God will bring justice.”

“We’ve never had something this scary,” said Constance C. Bausell, 52, a school teacher who knew Blackwell at church.

Students and family members gathered on the lawn and wept in small circles throughout the day for the dean, the teacher and the student they knew so well.

“They were irreplaceable, whether you see them as teachers or father figures or friends,” Sievers said Thursday night. “It’s going to be tough going back to school.”

Beside him, people were laying their extinguished candles in front of a makeshift memorial of flowers and stuffed animals around the school’s concrete sign.

Students described Sutin as a hands-on administrator who knew all of his students’ names.

“He just had this integrity about him,” said Mary Kilpatrick, who will graduate in a semester.

Blackwell was remembered as an avid runner and trumpet player.

“I knew him from choir, Brown said. “We were going to start a little band.”

Blackwell, a father of three, recently performed with his family in a Christmas show at a local elementary school, Harris said.

Dales, a boisterous mother of an 8-year-old girl who became a student after working as a recruiter for the school. She wanted to work in law education.

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