Bridgewater, VA – A Bridgewater College campus safety officer and a campus police officer were gunned down by an active shooter while investigating a report of a suspicious person on Tuesday afternoon.
Bridgewater College Police Officer John Painter, 55, and Campus Safety Officer Vashon “J.J.” Jefferson, 48, were dispatched to the area of Memorial Hall at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Feb. 1 after school employees noticed a male in an off-limits area of the campus, CNN reported.
They said the man was carrying a duffel bag, according to the Daily News-Record.
The officers briefly made contact with the suspect, who was later identified as 27-year-old former student Alexander Wyatt Campbell, according to the Daily News-Record.
Investigators said Campbell fatally shot both officers during the short interaction, then fled the area on foot, CNN reported.
Officer Painter was issued a firearm in his role as a campus police officer, but Safety Officer Jefferson was not, Virginia State Police (VSP) spokesperson Corrinne Geller told reporters during a press conference Tuesday night.
School officials posted reports of the active shooter to social media and ordered students and staff to “shelter in place,” according to the Staunton News Leader.
Most students were in class at the time of the incident, the Daily News-Record reported.
Some later recounted how they barricaded themselves inside their classrooms and called family members to tell them goodbye after they heard gunfire erupt.
— Kyle Rogers (@WHSVKyle) February 1, 2022
Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies descended on the campus and immediately launched a search for the gunman, CNN reported.
“A man fitting the shooter’s description was located on Riverside Drive off campus in the town of Bridgewater,” Geller said. “He then waded through the river and onto an island in the North River.”
The suspect was apprehended on the island without further incident, CNN reported.
Geller said the gunman was transported to the hospital to be treated for a non-life threatening gunshot wound.
Investigators are still trying to determine if he shot himself or if he was hit during an exchange of gunfire with campus officers, CNN reported.
Geller said police recovered “multiple firearms” associated with the suspect.
Witnesses said Campbell was a former Bridgewater College student and cross-country athlete, the Daily News-Record reported.
He has been charged with first-degree murder, two counts of capital murder, and using a firearm in commission of a felony.
He was booked into the Rockingham County Jail and was being held without bond.
Police are still investigating the attack and potential motive, the Daily News-Record reported.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also assisting with the investigation.
“It’s still a very complex and very active investigation,” Geller told reporters Tuesday night.
Our hearts go out to the Bridgewater College community today as we mourn the passing of Campus Police Officer John Painter and Campus Safety Officer J. J. Jefferson. Our thoughts go out to their family, friends and coworkers. Rest easy brothers💙 pic.twitter.com/Ho3caUeUX3
— Virginia Tech Police (@VaTechPolice) February 2, 2022
Bridgewater College President David Bushman confirmed the officers’ deaths in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.
“Today our campus community experienced unspeakable tragedy,” Bushman wrote. “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 said Officer Painter and Safety Officer Jefferson were murdered while trying to protect others.
“These officers were close friends, known to many of us as the ‘dynamic duo,’” he added. “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.”
Virginia Union University's thoughts + prayers are with Bridgewater College, the families of Campus Police Officer John Painter + Campus Safety Officer J.J. Simpson + all those affected by yesterday's tragedy. We pray for your peace which passes all understanding at this time. pic.twitter.com/RWYqmgXA7J
— Virginia Union (@VAUnion1865) February 2, 2022
Campus Safety Officer Jefferson had been with the BCPD since August of 2018, BCPD Chief Milton Franklin said in a Facebook post.
While studying at Shenandoah University in Winchester in 2013, Safety Officer Jefferson took a position there as a Department of Public Safety sergeant, the Daily News-Record reported.
Officer Painter joined the Bridgewater College Police Department (BCPD) in May of 2019 after retiring from his position as chief of the Grottoes Police Department (GPD), Chief Franklin said.
Officer Painter served the GPD for 18 years prior to his retirement, the Daily News-Record reported.
“Chief Painter leaves a legacy of true diligence, heart, honor and leadership within our community,” Grottoes Mayor Jo Plaster told the paper.
PROCESSION: A police escort from Bridgewater College as the bodies of a campus police officer & campus safety guard are transported following today’s deadly shooting. @WHSVnews pic.twitter.com/IZIKxxgsZs
— Kyle Rogers (@WHSVKyle) February 2, 2022
“Their loss is being deeply felt by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni across the globe,” Chief Franklin wrote. “We keep their families in our hearts and prayers during this incredibly difficult time.”
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin ordered flags be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday in honor of the slain officers, WHSV reported.
“My heart is broken tonight by the tragic loss of two officers at Bridgewater College today,” Youngkin said in a statement. “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,” the governor added.