|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Wed, 16 Jan 2002
Smyth Countians who are alumni or students at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy were still reeling Friday from this week’s attack by a gunman that left three people dead. Despite the tragedy, alumni Alan Stratton and Jeff Campbell and student Melissa Carrico said the school will thrive.
According to Grundy police, a 43-year-old Nigerian-born student, Peter Odighizuwa, shot and killed three people during a Wednesday rampage. Three people were wounded. The dead are L. Anthony “Tony” Sutin, the school’s dean; Thomas F. Blackwell, a professor; and Angela Denise Dales, a student.
Students tackled the accused gunmen to the ground and subdued him until police arrived. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against Odighizuwa. Within a day’s time, a memorial service was held at a church near the school to honor the slain.
Smyth County resident Melissa Carrico is in her second year at the Appalachian School of Law. On Wednesday, she had left the school a short time before the shooting occurred. She learned of the tragedy after getting home. Earlier in the day, she was in the same building where the shootings took place.
She said she is “still in shock” over the incident. Classes had begun only a week earlier, Carrico said.
Carrico said she was flooded with calls of concern and support from family, friends and others in the community. The same close atmosphere is prevalent at school, where the student population is just over 300, she said. The school opened in 1997. It is the first and only law school in the coalfields region.
She said all other professors and faculty members had a friendly, open door policy. Additionally, the school includes a curriculum of conflict resolution and arbitration, “things most law schools don’t teach,” Carrico said.
Carrico attended Thursday’s memorial service. On Friday she said she was “emotionally and physically exhausted.” She was not ready to return to the school on Friday.
“The school will band together and the people will be strong,” she said. “The school will succeed.”
Marion attorney Alan Stratton (right) of Bland and Associates was in the school’s first graduating class. Heavily involved in school activities as a student and an alumnus, Stratton said he knew Sutin well. While at school, Stratton helped found the student chapter of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Sutin was the faculty advisor for the group. Stratton is also on the burgeoning alumni association with which Sutin was heavily involved.
Stratton said he had been to numerous dinners with Sutin and his wife, Margaret Lawton. Sutin and Lawton came to Grundy from Washington, D.C., where they worked in government jobs. Sutin was an assistant under then-Attorney General Janet Reno.
“He was just an incredibly good man,” Stratton said. “He was brilliant. He was an excellent teacher, and I would put him up against anyone for teaching. I never heard a negative thing about him.”
Stratton said Sutin helped bring the infant school to life, adding that Sutin will be irreplaceable.
Stratton knew of Blackwell but did not know him personally. Stratton said he worked with Dales when she was employed in student services. Sutton worked as a recruiter for the school, talking to potential students about coming to study in Grundy.
Stratton said the school was challenging. Out of a first class of 72, just 30-some students graduated. According to police reports, failing grades and an expulsion may have been the motive for Odighizuwa.
Stratton said, “It’s a real blow to the school, the town and all of Southwest Virginia.”
Saltville Councilman and attorney Jeff Campbell (left), who graduated with Stratton, said, “There is no doubt it is a big loss for the school. [Sutin] was just an outstanding administrator. I don’t know how you would ever replace him. The contacts the man had were outstanding.”
Campbell said he was still in a state of shock over the shooting. He said he is praying for the families involved in the shooting. Campbell had Sutin for two classes. He only knew Dales and Blackwell vaguely.
After Thursday’s memorial service in Grundy, Campbell said he and another alumnus walked through the building where the shootings took place. At Sutin’s office, where the door was locked, crayon drawings were hanging on the wall, the work of his young, adopted son.
“It’s just a sad situation,” Campbell said. “As far as the school goes, I think the administration has proven to be resilient during difficult times. But I think the school will bounce back and grow stronger.”