Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Wed, 16 Jan 2002

Shooting rampage at law school kills three, wounds three others

Roger Alford
The Associated Press State & Local Wire

A struggling law school student who had just been suspended went on a shooting spree at the school Wednesday, killing the dean, a professor and a student before he was wrestled to the ground, school officials and witnesses said.

Three students also were critically wounded in the hail of gunfire at the Appalachian School of Law.

“When I got there there were bodies laying everywhere,” said Dr. Jack Briggs, who has a private practice a half-mile from the school in this tiny mountain community in western Virginia.

Dean L. Anthony Sutin and Professor Thomas Blackwell were gunned down in their offices, according to school officials. The third person slain was a student, said Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Warner.

Briggs said he had treated the suspect - identified by state police as 43-year-old Peter Odighizuma - in the past year. He described the gunman as a Nigerian who had flunked out last year and been allowed to return.

Odighizuma had been suspended from school earlier Wednesday, Qualls said. She said Odighizuma had a history of mental instability that school officials were aware of.

The suspect was at the Buchanan County Jail. No charges were immediately announced.

The dean and the professor were “executed” in their offices, according to Briggs. He said the gunman then went downstairs into a common area and opened fire on a crowd of students, killing one and wounding three others.

The gunman was tackled by four male students as he left the building.

“They just wanted the guy,” Briggs said. “They weren’t worried about their own personal safety.”

The wounded students were hospitalized in critical condition, the governor said. Qualls said the weapon used was a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

The private law school, with an enrollment of about 170 students, was closed for the rest of the week.

Justin Marlowe, a first-year law student from Richwood, W.Va., said the suspect had been in all of his classes.

“He was a real quiet guy who kept to himself. He didn’t talk to anybody, but he gave no indication that he was capable of something like this,” Marlowe said.

He also said Odighizuma had flunked out a year ago and “the dean bent over backward to get him enrolled again.”

The governor, who had served on the school’s board until he took office last week, said he was shocked and saddened by the shooting.

“I commend the students who acted swiftly to apprehend the suspect, who is now in custody,” Warner said. “My heart goes out to the school and the community. I know that such a close-knit community will feel such a tragedy especially deeply.”

Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, was also an associate professor at the school. He left the 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.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Sutin’s wife, Margaret, their two children and to all of their family and friends,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

The school opened five years ago in a renovated junior high school in Grundy, a town of about 1,100 just a few miles south of the Kentucky and West Virginia state lines.

School founders hope to ease a shortage of lawyers in the coalfields of southwest Virginia, help change the region’s image and foster renewal in Appalachia. The American Bar Association rejected the school’s first application for accreditation in 1999.

The school graduated its first class of 34 in 2000. There are about 15 faculty members, including alumni of law schools at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia, Harvard and Howard universities.

“You read about it in other areas, but when it comes home it really hurts,” said state Del. Jackie Stump of Grundy, fighting back tears as he hung his head and walked away from a news conference in Richmond.

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