Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Thu, 17 Jan 2002


Rex Bowman
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, NC)

An angry student killed three people and wounded three more yesterday at the tiny Appalachian School of Law before fellow students tackled and subdued him, according to authorities.

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

Peter Odighizuwa, 43, a Nigerian student who had been dismissed from the school, was charged with three counts of capital murder and three counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, said Mike Stater, a spokesman for the state police. Odighizuwa is being held in the Buchanan County Jail.

He was dismissed last week for poor grades and notified that his financial aid would be suspended effective yesterday, said Chris Clifton, the 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 about 1:15 p.m.

“We heard a lot of commotion outside (the office) and heard some gunshots. Two students had just left our office. Apparently he (the gunman) met them in the hallway next to the courtyard. When we heard all that, I immediately locked the door and I got the people in the office out,” Clifton said.

“We climbed through a window - me, two employees and three students who were in the office,” Clifton said. “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, Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy and Stacey Bean, 22, of Berea, Ky. All three were in fair condition last night, according to hospital officials.

Stater said that the suspect went into professor Dale Rubin’s office to discuss his grades and his suspension. As he left that office, he asked Rubin to pray for him, according to reports.

The suspect then went into the offices of Sutin and Blackwell and opened fire with a Jennings .380 semiautomatic pistol.

He then went downstairs and started shooting at 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.”

The law school opened in 1997 in a renovated junior high school in Grundy, a mountain town of 1,100 residents.

The school, which has an enrollment of about 170, was opened with the hope of easing a shortage of lawyers in southwest Virginia.

Zeke Jackson of Fort Worth, Texas, a student at the law school, said of Odighizuwa: “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 said that Odighizuwa’s wife is a nurse’s aide at Buchanan General Hospital and that the nurses there had taken up a collection to “keep the kids from starving.”

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

Delegate Jackie T. Stump, D-Buchanan, disclosed the killings during a packed hearing on the state budget in the General Assembly Building. 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.”

Rex Bowman is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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