Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Thu, 17 Jan 2002


Rex Bowman
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

A student suspended for poor grades is charged with killing three people and wounding three others yesterday at the Appalachian School of Law before fellow students tackled and subdued him, according to authorities.

L. Anthony Sutin, 42, the dean of the school, and associate professor Thomas Blackwell, 41, were in their offices when they were shot and killed. The third person killed was student Angela Dales, 33, of Vansant, according to state police.

Peter Odighizuwa, 43, a Nigerian student who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been charged with three counts of capital murder and three counts of using a firearm in commission of a felony, state police said. He is being held in the Buchanan County Jail.

Odighizuwa was dismissed last week for poor grades and was notified that his financial aid would be suspended effective yesterday, said Chris Clifton, financial aid director in the office of student services.

Odighizuwa came into the financial aid office Tuesday and was threatening and verbally abusive, Clifton said.

“He was very hostile.” Clifton said. “This student had previously threatened the entire office of student services. He had even stolen his file once before.”

Clifton said he was in his office on the first floor yesterday when the shootings occurred at about 1:15 p.m.

“We heard a lot of commotion outside [the office] and heard some gunshots,” he said.

“When we heard all that, I immediately locked the door and I got the people in the office out. We climbed through a window - me, two employees and three students who were in the office. I went back in to see if everybody was OK. By the time I got in, the students had [the gunman] on the ground.”

The wounded students are Rebecca Claire Brown, 38, of Roanoke, who was shot in the abdomen and arm and taken to Holston Valley Hospital in Kingsport, Tenn.; Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy, who was shot in the back and was taken to Holston Valley; and Stacey Beans, 22, of Berea, Ky., who was shot in the chest and was flown to Bristol Regional Hospital.

All three were in fair condition last night, according to hospital officials.

State police spokesman Mike Stater said the suspect entered professor Dale Rubin’s office to discuss his grades and suspension.

“As he left that office, he reportedly asked professor Rubin to pray for him. The suspect then went into the offices of Sutin and Blackwell and opened fire with a Jennings .380 semiautomatic pistol,” Stater said.

“He then went downstairs and opened fire on the students, killing one and injuring the other three. As he walked out of the building, he was subdued by students and forced to the ground until Buchanan County sheriff’s deputies arrived to make the arrest.”

Zeke Jackson, of Fort Worth, Texas, a student at the law school, said of Odighizuwa: “He was a loner, somebody who would snap on you. He had an abrasive attitude.

“I thought he was going to hurt a student. I thought he was going to lash out at a student. He had been explosive when he was told he was wrong. I feel kind of guilty. I really wish I had talked to the dean of students or somebody. I wish I had gone into the dean’s office and said, ‘You need to get rid of this guy.’”

Dr. Jackie Briggs of Grundy, whose son-in-law is a student at the law school, said Odighizuwa’s wife was a nursing aide at Buchanan General Hospital. The nurses there had taken up a collection to “keep the kids from starving,” he said.

Odighizuwa’s wife had left him about three months ago and taken their four children with her, according to Clifton.

Del. Jackie T. Stump, D-Buchanan, disclosed the killings yesterday during a packed hearing on the state budget in the General Assembly Building in Richmond. The money committees observed a moment of silence to remember the victims.

Later, a tearful Stump, standing by the governor, told reporters, “You read about it and hear about it in other areas. When it comes home, it really hurts - good people.”

Gov. Mark R. Warner provided a state plane to Dr. Lucius F. Ellsworth, president of the Appalachian School of Law, to fly him back to Grundy. He had been in Richmond for a gathering of college presidents.

Warner, who had served on the law school’s board for almost two years, described the shootings as “a tragedy. We deplore this senseless act of violence. . . . I send out my personal sympathies to the families of the victims.”

At a news conference at the law school last night, Ellsworth said, “We are deeply saddened by this horrific tragedy. At this time, we find little meaning in these senseless acts. We know we can come together as the law school family in a loving, caring, supportive way.

“Each of us is suffering, but as a family, we can find strength to pass through this terrible dark and tragic valley.”

U.S. Sen. George Allen, a member of the school’s board of trustees, said, “The staff and faculty at Appalachian have always gone far out of their way to provide individual attention to students, so the loss of a student, a faculty member and Dean Sutin have hit the school especially hard.”

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, said, “It was with great sadness that I learned of the shootings. . . . As natives of Southwest Virginia, my wife, Marty, and I extend our sympathies to the families and friends who lost loved ones in the senseless act.”

The law school opened in 1997 in an old school building in the Buchanan mountain town of 1,100 residents. The school, which has an enrollment of about 170, was opened with the hope of easing the shortage of lawyers in Southwest Virginia.

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