Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Thu, 17 Jan 2002

Disgruntled law student kills three in US school

Patrick Smyth
The Irish Times

A disgruntled law student yesterday shot and killed the college dean, another member of staff and a fellow student in a small rural college in Virginia. Three others were injured before students subdued the killer, according to state police.

The Appalachian School of Law is in Grundy, Buchanan County, near the Kentucky border. It has a student body of only 170. Early reports said that the foreign exchange student had been upset at his grades and had opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol.

He was tackled and apprehended by his fellow students after killing the dean, Dr Anthony Sutin, and firing on others. He is now in custody. “It looked like a war zone,” reported Dr Jack Briggs, the local coroner who was one of the first on the scene. He said the killer was a former patient of his whom he treated for stress. He believed the student was about to be expelled from the school.

Dr Sutin was a former US Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs who served in the Clinton administration under the former Attorney General, Ms Janet Reno. The law school opened in 1997 in a renovated junior high school in this small town 120 miles west of Roanoke.

The school was opened to ease a historic shortage of lawyers in the coalfields of south-west Virginia, and to help change the region’s image and foster renewal in Appalachia. The first class of 34 graduated in 2000. The school has about 15 academic staff.

Despite a number of high-profile school-killing incidents, including the Columbine high-school massacre, US schools are becoming safer. There are fewer violent deaths every year, although there has been an increase in incidents involving multiple victims.

The FBI Uniform Crime Reports showed that between 1993 and 1999, youth homicides decreased 68 per cent to their lowest rate since 1966. In 1998, the National Crime Victimisation Survey showed that youth crime overall was at its lowest rate in the survey’s 25-year history.

The number of children killed in high-school violence is about half the number of Americans killed every year by lightning. A federal study of 253 school-related violent deaths published last week found that in most cases there were warning signs, such as a note, diary entry or a threat. The killings were usually not random but stemmed from personal disputes over romance or money, or were related to gang activity.

Student killers were more likely to have been bullied by peers, to have been involved in discipline problems at school or uninvolved in school activities.

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