2 killed, suspect identified and in custody after shooting at Va.’s Bridgewater College

Police investigate a shooting at Bridgewater College in Virginia that killed two people. (WTOP/Jessica Kronzer)

A campus police officer and a campus safety officer were killed Tuesday afternoon during a shooting at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia.

In a note to the campus community Tuesday evening, college President David Bushman identified the victims as campus Police Officer John Painter and campus Safety Officer J.J. Jefferson.

Authorities have a man in custody, identified as Alexander Wyatt Campbell, 27. His last known address is in Ashland. Campbell is charged with two felony counts of capital murder, one felony county of first-degree murder and one felony county of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He is being held without bond at the Rockingham County jail.

College police received several calls just before 1:30 p.m. about a suspicious man on the grounds of Memorial Hall on campus, Virginia State Police Spokesperson Corinne Geller said in a news conference Tuesday night. Jefferson and Painter responded and after a brief interaction with the man, he open fired at them and then fled on foot, Geller said.

Virginia State Police did not comment on Campbell’s connection with the school. Geller said she didn’t know if Campbell had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Law enforcement from several jurisdictions helped in the search, including Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Conservation police.

They found a man fitting the suspect’s description off-campus on Riverside Drive in Bridgewater. Geller said Campbell waded through the river and onto an island in the North River.

Officers went into the water, which is very shallow, and took Campbell into custody.

Campbell had a gunshot wound that Geller said was not life-threatening, and police are trying to determine whether it was self-inflicted or whether it happened during his initial encounter with campus law enforcement.

During the course of the investigation, Geller said several firearms were located.

Virginia State Police are asking people who have photos and videos related to what happened to share them at vsphtcs@vsp.virginia.gov.

“This is a complex and active investigation,” Geller said.

‘A dark day for Bridgewater College’

A shooting at Bridgewater College in Virginia has left two people dead. (WTOP/Jessica Kronzer)

“This is a sad and dark day for Bridgewater College,” Bushman wrote. “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.”

Adrielle Benner, a student at Bridgewater, was taking a test inside Memorial Hall when she heard a gunshot outside sometime between 1 and 1:20 p.m.

“It doesn’t really register with me at first, because … I think it’s like a race starting because the track was right there,” she recalled.

Benner, who was sitting next to a window, took a look outside and saw a body on the ground about 15 to 20 feet away.

“It looks like he was shot in the chest,” she recalled, and a man in a blue jacket and pants standing over him. “… You could hear the guy screaming when he was shot; you could hear every single gunshot.”

Another student, Benner said, saw the gunman shoot the man on the ground again before running away.

When gunfire erupted again, she recalled, it was “fight or flight.”

“Because we didn’t know whether he would come into the building or like what was going to happen next,” she said, “so it was just kind of almost every man for himself. Like we were all just running out of the classroom, trying to find a place to hide.”

The group of 10 to 16 students ended up locked in a bathroom, with a door propped against it, for 40 “excruciating” minutes, she said.

“We were just trying our best to like be silent and also contact our families and everybody,” said Benner, who had to text her mother and father with someone else’s phone.

“What else do you say in that situation?” she asked rhetorically. “Just reassuring them that I was OK and in a locked place, but that we didn’t know like, what was going on, or what was going to happen next.”

A shelter-in-place order was issued around 1:30 p.m. Roughly three hours later, the school gave the all clear.

In a statement, the college said local, state and federal authorities responded to a reported active shooter on the campus around 1:20 p.m.

“The initial report came in that two officers had been shot and the armed suspect had fled the scene,” the statement said. “State and local law enforcement immediately responded to the campus and initiated a massive search operation for the suspect.”

That suspect was arrested around 1:55 p.m., Virginia State Police said. A news photographer captured an image of the apparent suspect being arrested, laying face-down on the ground as more than a half-dozen law enforcement officers approached with guns drawn. The college gave the all-clear about 4:30 p.m.

No other injuries were reported.

When discussing Painter and Jefferson, Bushman said the campus was mourning the loss of the well-known and well-loved officers. Saying the pair was known as “the dynamic duo,” his statement said Painter was the best man at Jefferson’s wedding this year.

“Two members of the Bridgewater College family were senselessly and violently taken from us. The sadness is palpable. Words are not adequate, not nearly so, to express the grief, sadness, fear and — justifiably — the anger we all feel,” Bushman added.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his heart is broken by the “tragic loss of two officers at Bridgewater College.” He has ordered the U.S. and Virginia flags to be flown at half-staff Wednesday.

Bridgewater College is a small liberal arts school about 10 miles southwest of downtown Harrisonburg. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 1,500 students in the fall of 2021, according to the school’s website.

In his note Tuesday, Bushman, told the campus community “there is no single way to grieve, no right way for all of us.”

As we grieve individually and together, all classes and previously scheduled events will be cancelled tonight and tomorrow. All staff offices will be closed tomorrow, but everyone is welcome to be on campus so that we can begin to heal and to take care of each other. 

WTOP’s Will Vitka and Abigail Constantino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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