- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

GRUNDY, Va. It seemed like a risky proposition: building a law school in a small struggling coal town isolated by the rugged Appalachian Mountains.
But with area mines closing and the young moving away to find work, town officials pushed ahead, opening the Appalachian School of Law in 1997 inside an old brick schoolhouse.
"We needed this, anything that could help," said W.H. Trivett, 77, mayor of the blue-collar town of about 1,100.
It took time for the new students to gain acceptance in the close-knit community where many residents' families had lived for generations.
"We had to get used to people from different cultures living here, and they had to get used to us," said Richie Mullins, 35, who sells law school textbooks out of his bicycle store on Main Street.
But any lingering doubts students and faculty may have had about their neighbors' feelings disappeared last week, when a disgruntled former student apparently walked into the school and shot to death the dean, a professor and a student. The town responded.
In the days that followed, signs of support appeared throughout Grundy.
"ASL our thoughts and prayers are with you," read a banner in the parking lot of Rife's TV.
A grocery in nearby Vansant donated ham biscuits, cookies and soda pop to the Baptist church for a memorial service.
Loweda Gillespie, 61, tied yellow ribbons around storefronts, telephone poles and trees.
"We wanted to let them know we're family," Ms. Gillespie said.
Dean L. Anthony Sutin, 42, and professor Thomas F. Blackwell, 41, were slain in their offices on Wednesday. Law student Angela Dales, 33, died later at the hospital. Three other students were wounded.
The gunfire sent terrified students running from the building before classmates tackled Peter Odighi-zuwa, 43, who had been dismissed from the school because of failing grades. Mr. Odighizuwa is charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted capital murder and six weapons charges. The prosecutor said she will seek the death penalty.
Residents attended memorial services throughout the week, placing flowers on the school's concrete sign as victims' families and friends wept in small, shivering circles.
"It's so heartwarming to see this," school President Lucius Ellsworth said Saturday. "There's no doubt that out of this tragedy, this community has united."
For decades, officials wanted to build a law school in southwest Virginia to create jobs and provide a legal resource for the remote area.
"In all rural areas, there is a real lack of legal education," said Mr. Ellsworth, a former education official in Tennessee and vice chancellor of Clinch Valley College in Wise, Va. Before the law school came to Grundy, there was no law school within a three-hour drive.
The Appalachian School of Law now has about 200 students. The American Bar Association granted it provisional accreditation last year. Everyone at the school students and faculty alike is required to support the town with 25 hours of community service per term.
Students, many of whom are older and looking for a second career, tutor Grundy schoolchildren.
"These kids, the way they're allowed to work with the public, I'm sure they're getting a better education than they could in other places," Mr. Trivett said.
Among the faculty, Mr. Blackwell was one of the most involved. His children regularly helped out at the Mountain Mission School, an agency for orphans and children of extreme poverty. He and his wife, Lisa, sang in a church choir, and he was on a committee to find a new pastor.
"Y'all have become our family," Mrs. Blackwell said at a memorial service for her husband on Friday. "We have more love here than we could possibly have asked for."
Mr. Blackwell's funeral is scheduled for today in Dallas, where he lived before moving to Grundy.
A private memorial service was held yesterday for Mr. Sutin.
"He came to Grundy because he thought he could use his talents to help people in Appalachia, and to help boost the economy of a small coal town," said Kent Markus, a former Harvard Law School roommate and one of about 500 people who attended the service in an auditorium at Grundy High School. "He was trying to help the sons and grandsons of coal miners."
Mr. Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, left a position at the U.S. Department of Justice to help start the fledgling school.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno said Mr. Sutin had a knack for lightening intense moments with his humor.
"Tony could make me laugh at the tensest of moments," she said in a letter read at the memorial service. "He could make me smile in the saddest. And he knew just which to do and when to do it."
Classes at the law school are expected to resume tomorrow. The faculty has shuffled around schedules to cover Mr. Blackwell's classes, and Paul Lund, an assistant dean, has been appointed to fill Mr. Sutin's role until a new dean can be hired.
"As horrific as this has been, I'm certain the institution will be stronger," Mr. Ellsworth said.

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