BRIDGEWATER, Va. (WAVY) — Police have charged a 27-year-old man after he allegedly shot and killed two Bridgewater College campus officers on Tuesday.
Virginia State Police identified the suspect Tuesday night as Alexander Wyatt Campbell, 27. His last known address is in Ashland, Virginia.
In an update Wednesday night, state police said he has been charged with:
- 1 felony count of aggravated murder of a police officer
- 1 felony count of first-degree murder
- 1 felony count of aggravated murder of multiple persons within 3 years
- 1 felony count of aggravated murder of multiple persons
- 1 felony count of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony
Campbell is being held without bond at Rockingham County Jail. He was arraigned and appointed an attorney Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County General District Court.
Bridgewater College President David Bushman sent a message to the campus community Tuesday identifying the officers involved as Campus Police Officer John Painter, 55, and Campus Safety Officer J.J. Jefferson, 48. Bushman said they were close friends known on campus as the “dynamic duo.”
“John was J.J.’s best man in his wedding this year. They were beloved by students, faculty and staff. I hurt for their families and loved ones, as I know we all do,” the message read.
The message also called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.”
The message continued: “This is a sad and dark day for Bridgewater College. I know we all have so many questions and not many answers. One thing I do know, though, is that we will rally around one another and support each other as we move forward from this day. We are all victims, though some much more so than others, and it will be important that we each seek to find comfort and support in the ways most meaningful for us.”
A Facebook post from the Bridgewater College Police Department Chief Milton Franklin gave background on the officers. Painter joined the campus department in May 2019 after retiring as chief of Grottoes, Virginia Police Department. Jefferson joined the department as a campus safety officer in August 2018.
The remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.
Police and campus officials held a press conference Tuesday night around 8 p.m. to give more details about the shooting.
Police responded to a call about a suspicious man near Memorial Hall around 1:20 p.m. The man wasn’t supposed to be at the location where he was seen, which is why he was reported.
After a brief interaction with the man, he opened fire and shot both officers, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Tuesday night.
Numerous departments responded and then began to try to find the male, who fled on foot. The Bridgewater College Police Department, Town of Bridgewater Police Department, Virginia State Police, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, City of Harrisonburg Police, Augusta Sheriff’s Office, Town of Dayton Police Department, FBI, and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries all responded.
The campus went into lockdown as the situation unfolded.
“For additional safety purposes, law enforcement officials will be moving through buildings,” Bridgewater tweeted. “Do not be alarmed. listen to officers’ instructions.”
According to state police, the armed suspect was taken into custody at 1:55 p.m., but the campus asked the community to continue to shelter in place as the investigation continued.
State police said the man was found on Riverside Drive, off-campus, in the town of Bridgewater. He waded into the North River (which is about knee-deep) and onto an island in the river.
Officers took Campbell into custody without further incident and walked him back off the island. He was found to have a gunshot wound, which was not considered life-threatening. Police said they’re working to determine whether he exchanged gunfire with police, or if his wound was self-inflicted.
According to Geller, only one of the officers, Painter, carried a sidearm. Campus safety officers do not carry firearms.
This image from the local Daily News-Record shows authorities trapping a person at gunpoint.
Campbell was taken to a local hospital for treatment and later released.
Police said Cambell has multiple weapons that have been connected to him and recovered. They were found both on- and off-campus. Police also believe Campbell was the only person involved in the shooting.
Anyone with images or surveillance relating to the shooting should email Virginia State Police firstname.lastname@example.org.
State police said it was “still a complex and active investigation at this time.” The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting with the investigation.
“My heart is broken tonight by the tragic loss of two officers at Bridgewater College today. These officers were dedicated to protecting the students and faculty of the college and I have ordered that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia be flown at half-staff tomorrow to honor their memory and courageous efforts. The First Lady and I ask Virginians to keep their family, friends, and the Bridgewater community in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”Gov. Glenn Youngkin
Youngkin also ordered all U.S. and Virginia flags to be lowered to half-staff on all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in Virginia on Wednesday in memory of Painter and Jefferson.
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) called the shooting incident devastating and heartbreaking. “The Shenandoah Valley is a caring, God-loving and supportive corner of Virginia, but this event is a terrible reminder of the evils that can lurk in the shadows of any community,” he said.
President Joe Biden also released a statement on the shooting on Twitter.
“Another senseless shooting has taken the lives of two brave officers. Jill and I are praying for the families of those lost.
“Gun violence against law enforcement officers is sickening, and it must end.”President Joe Biden
The small liberal arts college (enrollment around 1,800 undergraduates) in the Shenandoah Valley is just about 15 minutes down Interstate 81 from JMU.
JMU President Jonathan Alger shared this statement on the shooting:
We are shocked and saddened by the tragedy that took place on the campus of Bridgewater College, our neighboring institution with whom we work closely.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims during this difficult time. These are members of our communities, working to keep the campus safe and we are forever grateful for their efforts.
In these moments of extreme grief and uncertainty, we are prepared to support the Bridgewater community in whatever ways we can. We have been in touch and are ready to support and provide resources today, tomorrow and in the weeks to come. We stand together as colleagues, neighbors and friends.
With deepest condolences from all of us at James Madison University,Jonathan Alger, JMU president
Bridgewater said it would share more information about grief counseling “very soon.” Bushman said classes are canceled for Wednesday. Extra presence will continue with the ongoing investigation.
State police said a law enforcement procession returning Painter and Jefferson home from Roanoke will take place Thursday around 2 p.m. along Interstate 81.