Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Fri, 18 Jan 2002

Faculty here remember law prof slain in Va.

Adam W Lasker
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

A former visiting professor at the Chicago-Kent School of Law was among three people who were shot to death at a Virginia law school.

Thomas F. Blackwell, who had taught legal research and writing here for two years, was slain Wednesday along with the dean of the Appalachian School of Law and one of its students. A former student is accused of going on a shooting rampage that also left three students wounded. “He was a talented teacher and scholar and was respected by both our faculty and our students,” said Harold J. Krent, Chicago-Kent’s interim dean. “His death is a tragic loss to the legal community and to his many friends and colleagues.”

Blackwell, the father of three children, moved to Virginia and joined the law school’s faculty in 1999.

He was in the top 10 percent of his graduating class at Duke University School of Law in 1986, the same year he received a master’s degree in philosophy from that university.

Peter Odighizuwa, 43, went to the law school, located in Grundy, Va., to talk to the dean, L. Anthony Sutin, about his recent dismissal for failing grades. Officials and students said he then used a .380-caliber pistol to shoot and kill Sutin, Blackwell and student Angela Dales, 33, said Virginia State Police spokesman Mike Stater.

“They were irreplaceable, whether you see them as teachers or father figures or friends,” William Sievers, president of the school’s Student Bar Association, said Thursday outside the school during a candlelight remembrance gathering of about a hundred people.

“It’s going to be tough going back to school,” he said.

Three other students were injured and were hospitalized in fair condition, Stater said.

Krent said Blackwell also taught corporate finance, copyright law and law office technology during his time in Chicago, which lasted from August 1997 to May 1999.

Associate Professor Mary Rose Strubbe, who is now the director of Chicago-Kent’s research and writing program, said she worked closely with Blackwell in Chicago helping first-year students prepare oral arguments and working with second- and third-year students in the school’s moot court society.

“He loved teaching. He was a good teacher and had tremendous respect for the students,” Strubbe said. “He would spend an immense amount of time with students who needed help or had questions or just wanted to come and talk.”

Strubbe and Blackwell had kept in touch since he left Chicago, and they saw each other several times about two weeks ago in Texas at a meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. At that event, Strubbe said, they had time for a fairly long conversation during a luncheon for the Association of Legal Writing Directors.

“He was leaving the conference early … to hook up with his wife and kids, who were on the way back from spending the holidays in Texas,” Strubbe said. “He was very full of enthusiasm for teaching, research and writing, the Appalachian school and his family, and how well they were enjoying living and going to school in the area.”

Ralph Brill, a Chicago-Kent professor who was director of the school’s research and writing program for 14 years, said Blackwell was a skilled legal writer who could have taught at any law school.

“He passed up many opportunities to use his immense talents at more prestigious places to go to Appalachian and make it a place for poor people to gain entrance into the profession,” Brill said. “He worked very hard, undertook far too many projects, but somehow completed them on time and highly competently.”

Sutin, the Virginia law school’s dean, was a 1984 Harvard Law School graduate and also was an associate professor at the school, which has an enrollment of about 170 students. He left the Justice Department five years ago to help found the school, which is housed in a renovated junior high school.

Sutin had worked for the Democratic National Committee and former president Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Sutin had said he helped develop the law school to ease the shortage of lawyers in the region and to help foster renewal in Appalachia.

Odighizuwa, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, appeared Thursday in Buchanan County General District Court for an arraignment hearing, during which he told Judge Patrick Johnson that he is sick and needs help.

“I was supposed to see my doctor. He was supposed to help me out … I don’t have my medication,” Odighizuwa told the judge.

Prosecutors charged Odighizuwa with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six charges of using a firearm in a felony. Odighizuwa, who was arrested on Aug. 15 for allegedly assaulting his wife, will be held without bond pending a preliminary hearing on March 21.

Chris Clifton, the school’s financial aid officer, said Odighizuwa was recently dismissed permanently from the school because of his poor grades. Clifton met with the student the day before the shooting, and said Odighizuwa had been struggling with his grades for more than a year and had been dismissed once before.

“He was angry. He thought he was being treated unfairly and he wanted to see his transcript,” Clifton said. “I don’t think Peter knew at this time that the dismissal was going to be permanent and final.”

Jack Briggs, a doctor with a private practice a half-mile from the school, said that after Odighizuwa shot Sutin and Blackwell in their offices, he went downstairs to a commons area and opened fire on students.

“When I got there, there were bodies laying everywhere,” Briggs said.

Odighizuwa left the building and dropped his gun after being confronted by students, who then tackled him to the ground. One student who is a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed the gunman until police arrived and took him into custody.

Grundy, a gritty coal town of about 1,100 in the shadow of two great mountain ridges, has long been isolated from violent crime, the Rev. Stan Parris said Thursday afternoon at a memorial at the Grundy Baptist Church. He asked the crowd of a few hundred to pray and reassured them that “God will bring justice.”—The Associated Press contributed

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