Local man lives through recent shooting at college

By Carrie Sidener

Staff Reporter

 

GRUNDY, Va. – As most people watched the news coverage of yet another school shooting last month, one local man witnessed the events as they unfolded.

Jody Mitchell, 24, of Dobson, attends the Appalachian School of Law, in Grundy, Va., where, on Jan. 16, a fellow student opened fire, killing the dean, a professor and a student, and wounding three others.

"As I sit back and reflect on how that day unfolded, it is amazing," Mitchell said Saturday.

The Appalachian School of Law has about 300 students. The private law school was founded by community leaders in 1997. Built in a refurbished junior high school near the downtown area, hopes were to revitalize a region decimated by the decline of the coal industry.

This is Mitchell’s first year at the law school. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Mitchell recalled the events of Jan. 16, saying that around 11 a.m., he and friends Sally Garrison, Kelly Cuttler and Angela Denise Dales were debating on whether to get lunch at a nearby Pizza Hut.

"Angela said she couldn’t go, that she really needed to study," Mitchell said. "So we went back to our separate places … If I just could have gotten her to go with us."

Dales was killed about two hours later.

Mitchell made plans to meet Garrison at her truck for a ride to campus.

"I am one of those people that really presses to be on time," Mitchell said. "I waited at Sally’s truck and she didn’t show up at one. She showed up about five minutes after one and we drove to school."

When the two got out of the truck, Mitchell heard the sound of a bullet hitting the metal roof of one of the law school’s buildings.

"I looked at Sally and said, ‘Someone is trying to shoot a pigeon off the roof of the school,’" Mitchell said. "As we were walking across the street, we heard more gunshots. I told Sally to get down."

Mitchell recalled that as he and Garrison got down in the street, they saw people running from the law school.

"People started flooding out of the school," Mitchell said. "They were running out the doors, climbing through the windows. Some people were climbing out through the blinds to get out and we were standing right in the path … It was like watching the coverage of the Columbine shooting. It was no different except I was standing there."

Mitchell said that is when he saw Peter Odighizuwa coming out of the school, waving a silver pistol and yelling.

"I knew he had done the shooting," Mitchell said. "He looked over at Sally and me and started walking over to where we were. I got on my hands and knees and tried to crawl under Sally’s truck. I thought I was going to be shot, and I was not prepared to meet my maker. My heart was just beating in my ears."

Mitchell said he heard the gun drop to the ground. It was then that students on the school’s campus tried to take control of the situation. Mitchell later learned that the gun still had three bullets left in it.

"Ted Beason ran up to Peter and said ‘Peter, lay on the ground,’" Mitchell said. "Ted tried to tackle Peter and Peter upper cut him."

At that point, students on the school grounds converged on Odighizuwa and knocked him to the ground.

"Peter had done poorly last semester and was asked to leave the school," Mitchell said.

He said Odighizuwa, 43, also had a history of spousal abuse. Odighizuwa is a Nigerian immigrant who was suspended from the law school Jan. 15 because of his grades.

"Peter lived a mile from my apartment," Mitchell said. "I have given him rides to school. I ran for the Student Bar Association. He was African American … I campaigned to him. I told him I would appreciate his vote. He smiled and said that he appreciated that. One of the people I thought I was a friend to I saw walking out of the school with a pistol."

Mitchell and Garrison ran into the school through the doors the gunman came out of and into a room called the Lion’s Lounge.

"Sally and I went through the first doors and it was still smoky with gunshot smoke," Mitchell said. "Sally and I were the first two people in there. When I looked down, there was a person lying there and there was blood everywhere."

The person Mitchell saw was his friend, Angela Denise Dales, who had been shot in the carotid artery in the neck.

"She was my date for the formal – she sat beside me in class – and she was so messed up that I didn’t recognize her," Mitchell said. "She looked up at me. She tried to say something, but it was just a gurgle."

Mitchell said as he was looking in disbelief at Dales, he heard someone else call for help.

"Madeline (Short) had been shot in the back," Mitchell said. "It was just really weird. I had never seen a gunshot wound before. I told her that it didn’t look too bad."

Mitchell said he rolled Short on her side and checked her to see if there were any other visible wounds.

"There was a lot of blood," Mitchell said. "She said ‘I can’t breath.’ I thought she had had been shot and the bullet had punctured one of her lungs."

Mitchell asked someone to apply pressure to Short’s wounds and started to run to the bathroom to get paper towels and toilet paper to try to slow the bleeding.

"That is when I heard a high-pitched scream," Mitchell said. "Laying about 15 feet from me was Stacy Beans. I said ‘Stacy, are you okay?’ She grabbed my hand and said ‘I’m sorry, I was so scared that I peed my pants.’ I looked at her and her boyfriend said she hadn’t been shot, I thought she had just fallen and probably broken a rib."

Mitchell said what he did not know at the time was that Beans had actually been shot three inches above her heart and the bullet had ricocheted off her rib cage and punctured a lung. The bullet had traveled through a glass wall and Mitchell said at the time, he thought that she missed getting shot because of the glass wall.

Mitchell has talked with his friend James Davis a number of times since the incident because Davis has had trouble dealing with the shooting.

"He said Peter was shooting women," Mitchell said. "He said he saw him shoot his girlfriend and he thought to run, but it was his girlfriend. He said Peter cocked the gun and put it up to his chest, and then put it down."

Mitchell said after he spoke with Beans, he looked over to where Dales had originally laid.

"Angela had crawled over to the door," Mitchell said. "She had lost so much blood. It was everywhere, splattered on the walls and pooled on the floor."

He said he continued to the bathroom to find whatever he could to help stop the bleeding.

"I took all the paper towels I could and I grabbed some toilet paper," Mitchell said. "I was running so fast from one end to the other that I remember slipping in the blood. It freaked me out, but it was not a time for bad reactions."

Mitchell said Short had been shot from about eight feet away.

"I put the paper towels over her wounds," Mitchell said. "I told her to tell me all the good things that have happened in her life. I wanted to keep her talking because she kept telling me she was so tired."

While Mitchell kept Short talking, a woman in a black coat, carrying a cell phone ran into the room.

"She said, ‘Have you seen my husband, Professor Blackwell?’" Mitchell said. "That is when it dawned on me that this was just the first floor of the shooting. She ran upstairs. The police at this time were keeping people out. There were only eight of us in there caring for people."

Mitchell said Cynthia Short, Madeline Short’s sister, came into the room and screamed when she saw Madeline.

"She really started freaking out," Mitchell said. "I just shook her. I told her I was going to take her home so she can call her parents and then I was going to take her to the hospital."

Mitchell said a doctor that lived near the school was caring for the injured. The doctor told Cynthia Short that her sister was going to be okay.

"I took her out another way," Mitchell said. "The sight I saw of Angela . . . no horror movie could do that."

Mitchell said once he got back to the school, the police asked him to fill out a statement about what he had seen.

"That is when I got out of that very deliberate state I was in," Mitchell said. "My hands were shaking. I filled out the statement to the best of my ability. Sally walked into the police station carrying her dark green coat. She said ‘That was Angela.’ She had draped her coat over Angela and it was just soaked in her blood."

Mitchell said Garrison told him that Professor Thomas Blackwell and Dean L. Anthony Sutin were both shot and killed execution-style in their offices.

Sutin, a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, was a senior officer in President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department before coming to the school as dean and associate professor. He worked for Hogan and Hartson law firm in election law and campaign finance issues. He also worked as acting assistant attorney general for the legal affairs office at the Department of Justice. Sutin had just returned from China where he and his wife had adopted a 14-month-old girl.

Blackwell graduated from Duke University law school and had practiced in Dallas before coming to the Appalachian School of Law to teach contracts and intellectual property.

"In most law schools, you can’t go talk to the dean," Mitchell said. "Sutin had an open door policy. One of my friends said he went by and waved at the dean while he was eating a sandwich just a little while before the shooting."

Mitchell said the events of the day still haunt him.

"When I step through that door, I feel like I can still smell the gun powder," he said. "When I looked at my feet and saw the body of a girl I knew, I thought ‘Jody, you need to help.’ When I heard Madeline call for help, I just flipped it on and did the best I could. If I had known at the time that it was Angela, I would have just dropped to the ground."

Mitchell said it took him a week before he could sleep without the aid of sleeping pills.

"I was just one inch from insanity," Mitchell said. "I had a shirt hanging in my closet and I thought it was Peter standing over me. I have been having dreams about it. I have also been diagnosed as having anxiety attacks. I thought I was a strong mental person, but that is something that I have never been confronted with in my own life."

Mitchell said the atmosphere at the school has changed since the shooting. He said the assistant dean had to step up and take Sutin’s place and one professor had to take a leave of absence due to mental anxiety.

"Law school is highly competitive," Mitchell said. "It is a dog-eat-dog world. Now the law school is almost like a legal family. It is very tight knit. It is still a little tough when I go into the Lion’s Lounge. I still look down and when I look at where Angela lay, I still get shivers. I have a hard time dealing with the fact that I could have spent the last minutes of my friend’s life with her."

Mitchell said classes were canceled from that Wednesday until the following Monday. He said the American Bar Association ruled that the students do not have to make up those days missed. He said funds were set up to help the families of the victims.

Mitchell said he went to Dale’s and Blackwell’s funerals and afterwards he just had to go home.

"I told my mom to please take me home," Mitchell said. "I just wanted to be with my friends. That was my therapy."

Mitchell said he spoke before a student group after the shooting.

"I told them ‘We can get through this and we will get through this. We will do this together,’" Mitchell said. "If we leave this school, Peter will have won. One way to rise above this is to stick in there."

Odighizuwa has been charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of attempted murder and six counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. He is being held without bail. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.