On January 16,2002, Peter Odighizuwa, a 43-year-old immigrant from Nigeria who had flunked out of law school, killed three and wounded three others at Appalachian School of Law. Odighizuwa had actually flunked out of the school once before, and just before the shooting he had been notified that he had flunked out again. After discussing his academic problems with professor Dale Rubin in the morning, Odighizuwa went home, but he returned to the school at approximately 1:00 p.m. with a .380 ACP semi-automatic handgun. He proceeded to the offices of Dean Anthony Sutin, a former acting Assistant Attorney General, and Professor Thomas Blackwell, shooting both at point-blank range. He also killed student Angela Dales and wounded three other students. Odighizuwa then fled the building, whereupon several students tackled and disarmed him.
Odighizuwa came to the United States in 1980. He worked for several years as a bus driver and a factory clerk in Portland, Oregon, then moved to Ohio. He enrolled briefly at Ohio State University, then transferred to Central State University, where he studied math. Odighizuwa had developed an interest in law, however, and says he wanted to practice public interest law so that he could help persons with disabilities and immigrants like him. He began applying to law schools and was accepted at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. Despite never having heard of the school before, Odighizuwa enrolled and moved there with his wife and four children. He found law school to be difficult academically and had a hard time fitting in. Odighizuwa claims that other students made fun of him and would leave the room when he entered.
Odighizuwa had purchased a pistol several months before the shooting after finding an unfired bullet outside his door. He claims he was targeting individuals who were particularly mean to him.
Odighizuwa has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but he was found incompetent to stand trial for murder in January 2002. He faced a death sentence. In the end, he pleaded guilty to avoid being executed and is serving three life sentences and an additional 28 years without the chance of parole. In an interview with the Associated Press, Odighizuwa claimed that he thinks of the incident often, but the details are murky. He cannot explain why he committed his crime, although he said he sometimes feels as though he is God exorcising demons. He also claims he got C grades and did not flunk out.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the law school in the wake of the shootings. The family of victim Angela Dales and three students who survived claim that school officials knew that Odighizuwa had a history of spousal abuse and should have known he posed a threat. Further, their suit contends that Odighizuwa was allowed to re-enroll in the law school after flunking out because the administration desperately needed to show some diversity and he was one of only a few black students. A diverse campus was part of the criteria for the accreditation the school was seeking. The law school’s administration has denied these claims. In his interview with the Associated Press, Odighizuwa scoffed at the lawsuits, arguing there was no way the school could have known what he would do, and stating that he was not a violent person. His paranoia was evident, though, as he spoke of involvement with the FBI, CIA, and KGB.
After the shooting, school administrators issued a statement saying they were shocked and saddened by the crime. Classes were canceled for the rest of the week. Gun enthusiasts used the opportunity to note that it was an armed student who was able to intervene before the shooting got even worse.
- Associated Press. (2002, January 17). Law students tackled gunman, held him down until police arrived. Fox News. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,43254,00.html
- Grundy, V. (2002, January 17). Suspect in law school slaying arraigned. CNN. Retrieved from http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/01/16/law.school.shooting/
- Grundy, V. (2003, September 27). Students recount law school shooting. Retrieved from http://www.legaled.com/shooting.htm