For two years after the law school murders we waited for the truth; we got no real answers; the anger built. I am not wealthy, I am not clever, I have no influence. I am no different from any man—the flaws, the strengths—the lies were infuriating. How do I fight back? The sense of hopelessness mixed with frustration was overpowering. The one thing I can do is write; I am a professional writer. For 31 years I had made my living as a political analyst, writer, and writing instructor.
My answer has been to write. But, the conservative press in Virginia has frequently declined to print my words. I can write for all levels of the U.S. government—the NSC, members of congress, the cabinet, the President’s Daily Brief—but, my words more often than not, do not reach the threshold for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Roanoke Times, or The Fredericksburg Freelance-Star. (I know it is fashionable to rant and rave about the liberal bias of the national media, but at the local level in Virginia, it is the exact opposite—a conservative bias.)
These same newspapers however, gave extensive coverage to Odighizuwa’s words, his ramblings from his jail cell. The words of the murderer made better copy than the words of the victims’ family. Clearly, Peter Odighizuwa’s tirades will sell more newspapers. A few smaller Virginia newspapers did print my words and for the Dales and Cariens families, seeing our words and thoughts in print has helped us come to terms with our grief, and our frustration. We began to think that perhaps our words could bring about legal reforms to help prevent future violence on school grounds, but we did not have a 9/11 Commission to listen to us. The second anniversary was approaching and the pressure was building in me to say something; to do something!
When I raised the idea of writing about the Appalachian School of Law murders the murders, my ex-wife, strongly objected. She repeatedly told me not to write anything. “These people carry guns, you travel, I am here all the time. I don’t want to be watching television and have bullet come through the window!”
I tried to say she was exaggerating, but I could not.
She reminded me of the hostility we had encountered from our neighbors because our ideas on politics and religion differ from theirs. These are Christians who shudder at any four-letter word, but get falling down drunk. They are people of faith who refer to the black workmen as “monkeys.” She reminded me of these facts. “This is the climate we live in,” she said. “Have you forgotten that if you even hint that you disagree with these people they become irrational!”
There was no convincing her. How could I argue? In the wake of Angie’s murder, how could I argue that my neighbor would not reach into his gun vault in a fit of rage and kill me, my wife or a member of my family? I could not. I had no argument. I remained silent as if to acquiesce, but inside I knew I had to say something—for me, for the Dales, for Angie, for Rebecca—for all of us.
In January 2004 Janice spent nearly two weeks in up state New York helping her brother settle into his new home. This was my chance. The house was quiet, just the dog and me.
In the months before Christmas, I had thought a great deal about what to say. Indeed, Angie’s murder was rarely far from my thoughts. I wanted to write an article. My work took me back and forth to northern Virginia frequently. I had used that time to listen to my favorite CDs and formulate my thoughts. By the time Janice left I was ready to write. In one day, in one four hour period, the article poured out of me. By the time I was finished I was weak. Two years later, it all came back: The anguish, the pain the tears, the horror. The tears streamed down my face, ‘things’ were not better, two years later it hurt just as much! The article I wrote appeared in two Virginia newspapers—but not the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Roanoke Times, or the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star:
“SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS; SEARCHING FOR JUSTICE”
The Rappahannock Record (2004)
“Everyone sympathizes with the families when innocent men, women and children are gunned down in the all-to-frequent acts of violence in this this country. Who didn’t agonize for the families and victims of Columbine?
“Every parent feels a deep sickness in the pit of the stomach when there is a school shooting—a sickness mixed with relief that thank God, my child was not killed.
“One day it is your child, or it is a member of your family. Two years ago a disgruntled student shot and killed the mother of our granddaughter,
“Angie Dales, and two faculty members at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. Two long years of pain and tears. I have watched Angie’s father nearly die from the anguish and stress; I have watched the grief on Angie’s mother’s face deepen as she copes with the tragedy; I have watched our granddaughter go—in a split second—from an exuberant seven year old to a morose child. The two-year journey since January 16, 2002 has been terrible.
“Time does not heal. Time allows you to come to terms with what has happened—some wounds never heal. How do you “heal” the hours of screams from a seven-year-old when she is told her mother has been gunned down?
“Time helps you live with the anger and rage stemming from the fact that a human being bled to death because she did not get help—when the hospital was six minutes away. Time allows you to think about her plea not to let her die—without losing your mind.
“Those of us left behind spend hours and days saying if only she hadn’t been in the student lounge, if only she had not cancelled her lunch with a friend.
“But she was there.
“In the search for answers we look for warnings, indications of violence. Could this shooting have been prevented? Yes! Were there were warnings that should have alerted authorities to the potential for violence at the school? Yes!
“The indicators were there. They were clear; there were many. The Appalachian School of Law had no campus security on January 16, 2002.
“Peter Odighizuwa, the gunman, was a threat. Indeed, he was such a threat to the staff, that one employee—fearing for her safety—had had him banned from her office. Others expressed their alarm to school officials, yet nothing had been done. He had argued and fought with students and staff alike. Yet nothing was done. The school did nothing and ignored all the warning of danger time and time again.
“Odighizuwa was not the only threat on campus. A year before Angie was murdered, she received the following from a fellow student after her computer accidentally sent a virus to another student:
“You f..king cocksucker, If you ever try to send me another
virus again, I will track you down, cut your nipples off, and
stick jumper cables in you and conned them to my truck.
I’m not bullshitin. May the sheriff will find you hanging
from a tree in Longbottom.”
“The e-mail was reported to the school and to the police, but the investigation turned up “nothing.” No realistic investigation was conducted, and still there was no campus security. The family’s request to see the police investigation of the e-mail has been denied. We have been told it is “confidential.” Even the State Police promise to retrieve the report from Richmond and answer our questions has never been met—after months of waiting.
“Indeed, a State Highway patrolman has angrily lectured us. He told the family we should be content the Mr. Odighizuwa will get his punishment in the hereafter. We should be content with that! The police claim they do not know who wrote the e-mail and that there is no connection to the murders on January 16th.
“How would they know there is no connection if they do not know who wrote the e-mail?
“In any case, there was a connection, because this was one more warning of danger to students that the law school knew about, but took no precautions for the safety of their students.
“Our two-year journey has taken us to schools throughout Virginia. Is it
unreasonable for us—or any parent—to ask that a school have campus security?
“No. Between 30 and 40 Virginia colleges and universities contacted—all sizes, private, and public—have campus security predating September 11th. The Appalachian School of Law had none.” (To be continued)