|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Thu, 17 Jan 2002
GRUNDY, Va.—Three people were shot to death yesterday at a small Appalachian law school near the Kentucky border by a troubled student who apparently had just flunked out for a second time, officials said.
Three students, including a woman who graduated from Berea College, were injured in the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law before the alleged attacker was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by other students.
Killed were the school’s dean, L. Anthony Sutin, 42, and Professor Thomas F. Blackwell, 41, both of Grundy, who were gunned down in their offices; and first-year student Angela Denise Dales, 33, of Vansant, Va.
Peter Odighizuwa, 42, a native of Nigeria who was living in Grundy, was charged with three counts of capital murder and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, said Mike Stater, public information officer for the Virginia State Police. Odighizuwa was being held last night in the Buchanan County, Va., Jail.
“When I got there, there were bodies laying everywhere,” said Dr. Jack Briggs, who has a practice a half-mile from the school, which is 13 miles from the Pike County border.
Student Chase Goodman, 27, of Pikeville, described a horrifying scene of screaming and blood.
“There were pools of blood all over,” Goodman said.
Stater said Odighizuwa went to the school to discuss his academic dismissal, which went into effect yesterday, with Professor Dale Reuben. As he left Reuben’s office, “he reportedly asked professor Reuben to pray for him,” Stater said.
Odighizuwa went into the offices of Sutin and Blackwell about 1:15 p.m. and opened fire with a Jennings .380 semiautomatic pistol, Stater said. Sutin and Blackwell died at the scene.
Odighizuwa then went downstairs into a common area and opened fire on the students, killing one and injuring three, Stater said.
Among the injured was Stacey Beans, 22, a first-year student who was shot once in the chest, police said. She was taken to Bristol, Tenn., Regional Hospital, where she underwent surgery and was listed last night in fair condition.
Beans, a 2001 graduate of Berea College, is from Paducah.
Her sister, Stephanie Medley of Paducah, said Beans wanted to go to school in Grundy to escape the dangers of a big city.
“They wanted to go someplace where they would feel safe. That was the main attraction,” Medley said. “It was a safe place, they thought.”
Also injured were first-year student Rebecca Claire Brown, 38, of Roanoke, Va., who was shot in the abdomen and the arm, and second-year student Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy, who was shot in the throat. Both were in fair condition last night at a Kingsport, Tenn., hospital.
The school’s 3.5-acre campus, which opened in 1997 in the town of 1,100, includes a building constructed in 1939 as Grundy High School and another building that had been a junior high.
Todd Ross, 30, of Johnson City, Tenn., a third-year law student, said he was standing outside the former high school building when he heard five to seven shots coming from the direction of the student lounge, which is in that building.
He said he saw Odighizuwa come out of the building with his gun pointed upward. Ross said he yelled at Odighizuwa to throw down the gun, and he did.
“I asked him to step over toward the flagpole and get down on the ground,” Ross said.
At that point, Ross said, another student, former Wilmington, N.C., police officer Ted Besen, approached Odighizuwa, who swung at him. Ross then wrestled Odighizuwa to the ground.
A third student, also a former police officer, went to his car, got a pair of handcuffs and put them on Odighizuwa before police arrived, Ross said.
“He kept saying, ‘I didn’t have anyplace else to go’” Ross said.
Zeke Jackson, 40, of Fort Worth, Texas, a second-year student who said he entered school with Odighizuwa in the fall of 2000, said Odighizuwa flunked out after that semester. He said Odighizuwa didn’t tell his wife, and went to campus every day, often hanging out in the library.
He was allowed to re-enroll last fall, but was dismissed again.
“He was isolated and abrasive,” Jackson said.
Justin Marlowe, a first-year law student from Richwood, W.Va., also said Odighizuwa had flunked out a year ago and “the dean bent over backward to get him enrolled again.”
Briggs, the Grundy doctor, said he had treated Odighizuwa for depression in the past year. In an interview with CNN, Briggs said that, although Odighizuwa had not indicated that he planned violence, “he was a time bomb waiting to go off.”
Odighizuwa’s next-door neighbor, Shirley Trent Stanley, said Odighizuwa had four children, ages 3 to 9. The family moved into the yellow frame house in Grundy in July 2000, Stanley said.
Odighizuwa’s wife, whom Stanley called Abby, 34, works at a local hospital.
The couple had been separated since last summer, but had attempted a reconciliation of late, Stanley said.
Stanley said Peter Odighizuwa had been in the United States about 20 years. He had previously lived in Washington state, and came to Grundy from Dayton, Ohio, she said.
The law school graduated its first class of 34—including two Kentuckians—in May 2000.
The private school has an enrollment of about 234 students. There are about 15 faculty members, including alumni of law schools at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia, Harvard and Howard universities.
Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law, was also an associate professor at the school who taught constitutional law. He left the U. S. Justice Department to found the school after working for the Democratic National Committee and Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, according to the Web site of Jurist, the Legal Education Network.
Sutin was instrumental in establishing the school to provide better legal services for Appalachian communities.
The school was closed until Tuesday as the town and students struggled to cope with the tragedy. A memorial service is scheduled for noon today.
Sallie Lawson, 35, of Johnson City, Tenn., who was introduced to Odighizuwa yesterday morning by Jackson, her friend, said Odighizuwa acted peculiar and distracted.
“I shook the guy’s hand. I never imagined anything like this was going to happen,” Lawson said.
Staff writer Lance Williams, The Associated Press and the New York Times News Service contributed to this report.
GRAPHIC: STEVE HELBER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Virginia State Police investigators conducted an interview yesterday in an office at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. A Nigerian native who had flunked out of the school is being held.
JOSH MELTZER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A police officer took video images yesterday of the Appalachian School of Law. A Paducah woman who graduated from Berea College was wounded in shootings that killed three people, including the school’s dean and a professor.
STEVE HELBER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police and emergency workers removed the body of a victim at the law school, 13 miles from Pike County.
L. Anthony Sutin, the dean, was killed.
Peter Odighizuwa is facing murder charges.