|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Fri, 18 Jan 2002
GRUNDY, Va.—Throughout his star-crossed career as a law student, classmates said, Peter Odighizuwa had been asking people in this small coalfield town for help, and was receiving it.
Yesterday, the 43-year-old—accused of shooting to death the Appalachian School of Law’s dean, a professor and a former classmate—pleaded for another form of help.
During his arraignment in the Buchanan County Courthouse, Odighizuwa, with his legs shackled, told a judge he was sick and needed help.
“I was supposed to see my doctor,” Odighizuwa said, hiding his face behind an arrest warrant. “He was supposed to help me out … I don’t have my medication.”
Odighizuwa, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Nigeria, faces three counts of murder and other charges. He will remain in jail without bond pending a preliminary hearing on March 21, Judge Patrick Johnson ruled.
Prosecutor Sheila Tolliver said she will seek the death penalty.
Virginia State Police say Odighizuwa opened fire at the school, less than 15 miles from the Kentucky line, after he flunked out for a second time. Police declined to say yesterday where he obtained the .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol used in the shooting.
Police said Odighizuwa went to the law school’s second floor to discuss his suspension with Dale Rubin, a black professor with whom classmates said he felt comfortable. As he left Rubin’s office, Odighizuwa told the professor to pray for him. He then went into the separate offices of Dean L. Anthony Sutin and associate professor Thomas Blackwell and shot them to death, police say.
Afterward, he walked downstairs and opened fire in the student lounge, killing classmate Angela Denise Dales, 33, and wounding three other women, including Berea College graduate Stacey Beans, 22, of Paducah.
Medical officials said yesterday all three women are expected to make full recoveries and probably will be released from Tennessee hospitals next week.
Law student Mikael Gross, 34, of Charlotte, N.C., pointed out that there were men in the lounge, but that the only students Odighizuwa allegedly shot were women. One male student said the gunman “actually walked around” him in order to shoot Dales, Gross said.
Gross, a police officer in Grifton, N.C., was among at least two students with law-enforcement backgrounds who helped subdue Odighizuwa when he emerged, brandishing his pistol.
When one of the students yelled for him to put down his gun, Odighizuwa placed it, along with an extra magazine, on a lamp post, Gross said. Both were empty, he said.
The suspect was tackled and handcuffed by another student, Ted Besen, a deputy sheriff in North Carolina. Gross said both he and Besen were armed.
Gross and the other students who helped capture Odighizuwa were praised yesterday.
“To be honest, I feel I’m surrounded by heroes,” said Paulina Havelka, 27, of Charlotte, a first-year student, after hugging Gross.
Lonnie Ayers, 42, a first-year student from Cumberland in Harlan County, agreed.
“These guys, instead of running away from the situation, ran to the situation,” Ayers said.
Odighizuwa faces three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons charges, court records show.
A few minutes before his arraignment, Odighizuwa told reporters as he was led into the courtroom, “I was sick, I was sick. I need help.”
Police said Odighizuwa was evaluated and given medication in jail, but officers declined to identify the drug.
Before and after a memorial service yesterday at Grundy Baptist Church, students and faculty members embraced, and wondered about the classmate who, some said, was prone to vulgar outbursts.
“He never smiled,” said Misty Kennedy, 24, of Cumberland, a daughter of Harlan County school board chairman David Kennedy.
Kennedy said Odighizuwa often appeared frustrated when he spoke in class because other students, and sometimes instructors, had difficulty understanding him.
He spoke softly, with an accent, classmates said.
“The teachers would really try to help him,” Kennedy said. “They’d look at him closely and let him repeat himself, up to three times.”
Mostly, these episodes appeared to make him angry, classmates said.
Kenneth Brown, 28, said Odighizuwa “was kind of off-balance. When we met last year, he actually came up and shook my hand and asked my name. Then, like five minutes later he came back and said, ‘You know I’m not crazy, but people tick me off sometimes.’ Out of the blue.”
Court records show Odighizuwa, the father of four, was arrested Aug. 15 for allegedly assaulting his wife. The police report said he hit her in the face, bruising her right eye.
Yesterday, no one answered the door at the home near campus where Odighizuwa and his family lived.
Police said Odighizuwa, who worked a variety of jobs while in Grundy, including bagging groceries, repeatedly approached them with concerns about people breaking into his former residence. Odighizuwa told police last year that someone placed a bullet in a stairway at his home and complained again three months ago that someone had broken into his house.
Police said they checked both complaints and found nothing.
Despite Odighizuwa’s problems, the dean and others tried to help him through school. Last year, Sutin raised enough money to buy Odighizuwa a used car, clothes and food, according to students and staff.
Chris Clifton, the school’s financial aid officer, said Sutin also helped get Odighizuwa a $19,000 loan last fall.
“They did everything in the world to help him out,” said Sean Maynard, 27, a first-year student from Kenova, W.Va.
Dink Shackleford, a former classmate, recalled giving Odighizuwa $20 after he stood up in class and announced, “I’m having a rough time. I’ve got four kids and they cut my electricity off.”
“People in this community bent over backward to help him out,” Maynard said. “He was just a bad student.”