A gunman fatally shot and killed a police officer and campus security guard at Bridgewater College in Virginia on Tuesday afternoon after responding to reports of a suspicious person near a building on campus, authorities said.
The assailant, identified by Virginia State Police as 27-year-old Alexander Wyatt Campbell, shot the two officers at around 1:20 p.m. after university employees called police after surprised them, said Corinne Geller, a police spokeswoman, during a press briefing on Tuesday evening. The officers died on campus.
Mr Campbell fled and waded into a river, where he ended up on a small island, Ms Geller said. He was captured at 1:55 p.m. after a “massive search operation” involving local, state and federal law enforcement officials, the college said in a statement.
He suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound, although it is unclear whether he was self-inflicted or shot by a university police officer, a said Ms. Geller. He was taken to hospital and later transferred to Rockingham County Jail, where he was being held without bail on two counts of capital murder and related charges.
Ms Geller would not say whether Mr Campbell, whose last known address was in Ashland, Virginia, was a student, but noted that authorities had recovered firearms “associated with him”.
In a 5:04 p.m. email to students and faculty, college president David Bushman identified the victims as John Painter, a police officer, and JJ Jefferson, a campus security guard. They were often referred to as a “dynamic duo,” Bushman said. “John was JJ’s best man at his wedding this year,” he added.
“It’s a sad and gloomy day for Bridgewater College,” Bushman said. “I know we all have so many questions and not many answers. One thing I do know, however, is that we will rally together and support each other as we move forward from this day forward.
The college, which is about 40 miles northwest of Charlottesville, has asked people on campus to shelter in place until it issues a all-clear notification at 4:33 p.m.
In a Tuesday night text message, Officer Painter’s nephew, Jacob Painter, said, “He’s a hero of all heroes.” The officer’s brother, Andy Painter, said in a text message: “If he had known this morning how his life would end, he still would have gotten up and put on the uniform.”
Officer Jefferson’s wife declined to comment.
Alex Hulleman, 21, an exercise science specialist, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday evening that he was in class at the school’s Flory Hall on Tuesday afternoon when he suddenly heard gunshots fire.
“We all immediately dropped to the ground,” he said, adding that two people sat against the classroom door while his teacher called 911.
After a while, Mr Hulleman said, the professor looked out the window and saw that two officers had been shot.
“It was pretty awful,” he said, adding that later sheets were placed over the bodies.
Once the names of the officers were released, Mr Hulleman said, there was a sense of disbelief among his classmates that Officers Jefferson and Painter had been shot. They were “two of the nicest people on campus,” he said.
“It was almost unbelievable for us,” he said. “They were always greeting people, always greeting people – amazing, honest citizens.”
Mr. Hulleman said he and his classmates remained in the classroom until about 4 p.m., when they were allowed to leave.
“It was pretty intense in those first few minutes and the next few hours,” he said. “Everything is kind of calmed down now. We’re just settling in, and we’re all talking to each other and supporting each other.
Officers Jefferson and Painter were the sixth and seventh officers to be shot and killed in the line of duty this year in the United States, according to the National Fraternal Order of Police.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said the Twitter Tuesday evening that he was “incredibly saddened” by the shooting, adding: “Gun violence is a tragic epidemic.”
As of the fall 2021 semester, about 1,500 full-time undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled at Bridgewater, according to the college.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.