|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Thu, 17 Jan 2002
Francis X. Clines
A distressed student facing suspension stormed through the campus of the Appalachian School of Law today with a handgun, killing the dean, a professor and a student and wounding three others before he was tackled by fellow students, the state police reported.
“Come get me, come get me,” the gunman was heard saying as terrorized witnesses ran for their lives here in this coal mining town in a remote corner of mountainous Appalachia.
“He was a time bomb waiting to go off,” Dr. Jack Briggs, a county coroner, told news reporters about the alleged assailant, Peter Odighizuwa, 42, a student from Nigeria. The authorities said the school had told Mr. Odighizuwa on Tuesday that he would be suspended because of failing grades.
State officials said that Mr. Odighizuwa, who was charged with three counts of capital murder, had a history of mental instability and that school authorities had sought to help him.
In a running assault, the gunman confronted and fatally shot the law school dean, L. Anthony Sutin, 42, who was a senior Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. Mr. Sutin was shot in his second-floor office, as was Thomas F. Blackwell, 41, a member of the faculty.
The third person killed, Angela Denise Dales, 33, of Vansant, Va., was described as a former law school employee who was widely admired for achieving her dream of finally enrolling as a student. She was shot in the school lounge with a .380 semiautomatic pistol.
The gunfire stunned the campus and surrounding town of 1,100 residents as it delivered death to a school envisioned in the 1990’s as a pastoral outpost to answer the chronic problems of educational need in one of the more distant and impoverished parts of Appalachia. It opened five years ago in a renovated junior high school and now has 170 students and 15 faculty members.
Mr. Sutin was praised by faculty and students as a dedicated pioneer at the school, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who had specialized in legislative affairs for former Attorney General Janet Reno before turning to the school as a fresh adventure. Professor Blackwell, a graduate of Duke University School of Law, was recruited to the faculty from his law practice in Dallas.
The three wounded students, hospitalized in fair to critical condition tonight, were identified as Rebecca Claire Brown, 38, of Roanoke, Va., who was shot in the abdomen; Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy, who was shot in the throat; and Stacey Bean, 22, of Berea, Ky., who was shot in the chest.
“There were pools of blood all over,” Chase Goodman, a 27-year-old student, said in describing a scene punctuated with screams and gunfire.
“When I got there there were bodies laying everywhere,” said Dr. Briggs, who arrived at the first emergency alarm. Two victims suffered point-blank wounds “execution style,” one doctor at the scene said.
Mr. Odighizuwa was subdued by three law students who were experienced police officers, the authorities said.
“We’re trained to run into the situation instead away from it,” said one of the three, Mikael Gross, 34, of Charlotte, N.C., who ran to his car for his bulletproof vest and service pistol before tackling the suspect.
Mr. Gross said that when he returned to the building he saw the gunman strike Ted Besen, another former officer, in the head. Mr. Gross said that he and another former officer, Tracy Bridges, then tackled the man.
Students described Mr. Odighizuwa as a troubled, sometimes abrasive classmate who became particularly upset after receiving failing grades a year ago.
“The dean bent over backward to get him enrolled again,” Justin Marlowe, a first-year student from Richwood, W.Va., told The Associated Press. Students said that Mr. Odighizuwa had been separated from his wife and that they shared custody of their four children, an additional factor of stress after he failed his first-year classes.
“I knew he would destroy some property or take something from the school, but not kill people like he did,” said Zeke Jackson, 40, a student from Fort Worth , who is head of the Black Student Association.
Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a statement of condolence to Dean Sutin’s wife and their two children. “The entire Justice Department is mourning the loss of a dedicated public servant,” Mr. Ashcroft said.
Appalled witnesses emphasized the remoteness of the school as a presumed safety factor that failed here in this rustic outpost.
“You know, the World Trade Center is in New York, but Appalachian Law School is right here in a very small community in southwest Virginia,” Dr. Briggs told CNN. “This is about as close as you can get to a war zone.” The doctor said the shootings were “just a matter of him releasing his anger on the world, I guess.”
Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, who was on the school’s board until he took office last week, commended the students who apprehended the suspect.
“My heart goes out to the school and the community,” Mr. Warner said. “I know that such a close-knit community will feel such a tragedy especially deeply.”
CORRECTION-DATE: January 21, 2002, Monday
An article on Thursday about a rampage shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., in which a student was charged, misstated the number of people shot to death in 1991 by a student at the University of Iowa. It was five, not four, besides himself.