|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Thu, 17 Jan 2002
GRUNDY, Va.—Minutes before a struggling law school student allegedly went on a campus shooting spree yesterday, killing the dean, a professor and a student, he was in the office of a former Northeast Florida attorney, complaining about grades, the lawyer said.
The attack also wounded three students at the Appalachian School of Law before the gunman was tackled by students and taken into custody. The wounded students were in fair condition.
Just before the attacks, the gunman was in the office of Stewart Harris, 40, a former Clay County lawyer who began teaching at the school last fall.
‘He did not seem the least bit agitated, the least bit violent,’ Harris said last night in a telephone interview with the Times-Union. ‘He was complaining about his grade. He was not one of my students.’
Harris said he talked to the man, later identified as 42-year-old Peter Odighizuwa, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, for about a minute, just before lunch. Odighizuwa had been dismissed from the school.
When Harris returned from eating, police were on a scene Harris described as ‘chaos.’
Jack Briggs, a physician who practices near the school and was one of the first to arrive after the shooting in this tiny mountain community in western Virginia, echoed Harris.
‘When I got there there were bodies laying everywhere,’ Briggs said.
Dean L. Anthony Sutin and Professor Thomas Blackwell were gunned down in their offices, according to school officials. Police said the third person slain was student Angela Dales, 33.
Odighizuwa had arrived at school to meet with the dean about his academic suspension, which went into effect yesterday, State Police spokesman Mike Stater said.
Odighizuwa first stopped in the office of Professor Dale Rubin to talk about his grades and as he left reportedly asked Rubin to pray for him, police said.
He then walked to Sutin’s and Blackwell’s offices and shot them with a .380-caliber pistol, Stater said. Witnesses said Odighizuwa then went downstairs into a common area and opened fire on a crowd of students, killing Dales and seriously wounding three others.
Harris said his office is next to Blackwell’s and about 50 feet from Sutin’s. Harris said he had known the two men for about a year. He said he only knew Odighizuwa vaguely.
Harris said students had just gotten grades from last semester and it was not unusual to discuss them with instructors.
‘The only thing that was the least bit unusual was that he was not one of my students,’ he said.
Harris, who teaches two classes, said the three wounded students were in his classes.
‘The entire day has been a very tumultuous day,’ he said.
Harris practiced law in Clay County from 1994 to May 2000.
Todd Ross, 30, of Johnson City, Tenn., was among the students who were outside when Odighizuwa left the building. Ross said the suspect was holding his hands in the air and dropped the gun at his prompting.
Odighizuwa was promptly tackled and ‘struggled after we got him on the ground, but then just laid there,’ Ross said. He said the suspect kept shouting, ‘I have nowhere to go. I have nowhere to go.’
Odighizuwa was being held at the Buchanan County Jail on three counts of capital murder and three weapons counts, authorities said.
Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Warner, said Odighizuwa had a history of mental instability that school officials knew about. Rubin, the professor who spoke with the suspect moments before the rampage, declined comment after the shooting.
First-year student Justin Marlowe from Richwood, W.Va., said Odighizuwa had been in all of his classes.
‘He was a real quiet guy who kept to himself. He didn’t talk to anybody, but he gave no indication that he was capable of something like this,’ Marlowe said.
He also said Odighizuwa had flunked out a year ago and ‘the dean bent over backward to get him enrolled again.’
The private law school, with an enrollment of about 170 students, will close for the rest of the week. Times-Union staff writer Dana Treen contributed to this report.