Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Thu, 17 Jan 2002


Kimberly O’Brien
Roanoke Times & World News (Roanoke, VA)

Anthony Sutin was the dean students aspired to emulate.

Thomas Blackwell was the professor whose door was always open.

Angela Dales was the cheerful former recruiter for the school who was in her first year of law school.

All three died Wednesday when a recently dismissed student with a history of mental instability walked into the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy and went on a shooting spree.

Three others were wounded.

The news of the shooting sent shock waves across Virginia and beyond. In Florida, former Attorney General Janet Reno mourned the loss of Sutin, who was acting assistant attorney general for legislative affairs before he left in 1999 to become dean of the fledging law school.

“In today’s shooting, I lost not only a former colleague, but a friend,” Reno said in an e-mailed statement. “Tony was an incredibly kind, exceptionally bright, and intensely dedicated public servant who was committed to bettering the welfare of all Americans.”

Attorney General John Ashcroft also issued a statement, calling Sutin, 42, a “dedicated public servant.”

At the Department of Justice, Sutin served as deputy director and general counsel for the Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services. Before working for the government, he was a partner in the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson, where he worked for nine years specializing in civil litigation. While at the firm, he represented the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton / Gore 1992 campaign and the Tsongas for President campaign.

“Tony was an absolutely brilliant lawyer,” said Sandy Mayo, who worked with Sutin at the law firm. “He was very committed to delivering legal services to the poor and pro bono work.”

Mayo described Sutin, a 1984 Harvard Law School graduate, as “the easiest person in the world to get along with.”

At the Appalachian School of Law, where everyone seemed to know one another, Sutin was just as well-liked, students, alumni and colleagues said. Sutin was also an associate professor of law.

Paul Dull, a Roanoke lawyer who graduated in 2000 and is now president of its alumni association, called Sutin “the greatest guy you ever want to know.” Julia McAfee, a former adjunct professor, said Sutin was instrumental in the school’s receiving accreditation by the American Bar Association last year.

“Dean Sutin was one of those guys you aspired to be,” Dull said. “He thought being a lawyer was a commendable profession.”

Said second-year law student Alex Vanburen: “He came here because he wanted to give back. He wasn’t here because he wanted a job. A guy like that could get a job anywhere in the world.”

Sutin left his home in Northern Virginia for Grundy in 1999 with his wife, Margaret Lawton, and then-3-year-old son, Henry, who was adopted from Russia. Lawton is an adjunct professor at the law school.

In a story in April in The Roanoke Times, Sutin was quoted as saying he had found in Grundy the old-fashioned qualities of life, such as knowing all your neighbors and being able to leave your doors unlocked. Wednesday, Grundy residents said Sutin and his family had truly become part of the community.

“Wonderful people,” said lawyer Tom Scott. “Good citizens of the community.”

Last month, the couple adopted a second child, traveling to China to get their little girl, Clara Lis. Dull said he got a letter from Sutin this past weekend thanking him for a Christmas card and explaining about the new addition to the family.

“The legal community lost a great individual,” Dull said.

Also lost was Blackwell, 41, a professor who taught such classes as law office management and legal process. His wife, Lisa Blackwell, is the acquisitions librarian, according to the school’s Web site. Dull said he thought the Blackwells had several children.

McAfee, now a lawyer in Norton, said Blackwell was always very concerned about his students and worked long hours at the school to be available to them.

“He gave 110 percent,” McAfee said. “His door was always open.”

Vanburen described Blackwell as tough, but laid-back and always smiling. Everyone loved him, he said.

“His class was hard as hell,” Vanburen said. “It was hard, but it was hard because he taught you.”

Angela Dales, 33, the only student killed Wednesday, was a former recruiter for the school in her first year of law school. A single mother with a young daughter, Dales, of Vansant, was always a smiling, happy person, said Dull, who worked part time in the recruiting office while he was in law school.

Kenard Dales described his cousin as an intelligent, “easygoing and a real friendly person” who was easy to talk to.

“She was just really a sweet, nice person,” said Vanburen, who was recruited by Dales. “It was like she was a motivational speaker, except it wasn’t fake. It was real.”

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