A gunman fatally shot a police officer and a campus safety officer at Bridgewater College in Virginia on Tuesday afternoon after they responded to reports of a suspicious person near a campus building, the authorities said.
The assailant, identified by the Virginia State Police as Alexander Wyatt Campbell, 27, shot the two officers around 1:20 p.m. after college employees called the police after he startled them, Corinne Geller, a police spokeswoman, said in a news briefing on Tuesday night. The officers died on campus.
Mr. Campbell ran off and waded through 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 sustained a non-life-threatening gunshot wound, although it was not clear if it was self-inflicted or if he had been shot by a college police officer, Ms. Geller said. He was taken to a hospital and was 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 if Mr. Campbell, whose last known address was in Ashland, Va., was a student, but noted that the authorities had recovered firearms “associated with him.”
In an email sent at 5:04 p.m. to the students and faculty, David Bushman, the president of the college, identified the victims as John Painter, a police officer, and J.J. Jefferson, a campus safety officer. They were often referred to as a “dynamic duo,” Mr. Bushman said. “John was J.J.’s best man in his wedding this year,” he added.
“This is a sad and dark day for Bridgewater College,” Mr. Bushman said. “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.”
The college, which is around 40 miles northwest of Charlottesville, asked those on campus to shelter in place until it issued an all-clear notification at 4:33 p.m.
In a text message on Tuesday night, 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 that, “If he knew this morning how his life would end, he still would have gotten up and put the uniform on.”
Officer Jefferson’s wife declined to comment.
Alex Hulleman, 21, an exercise science major, said in a phone interview on Tuesday night that he was in class in the school’s Flory Hall on Tuesday afternoon when he suddenly heard gunshots.
“We all immediately just dropped to the floor,” he said, adding that two people sat up against the door to the classroom while his professor called 911.
After awhile, Mr. Hulleman said, the professor looked out the window and saw that two officers had been shot.
“It was pretty gruesome,” 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 to us,” he said. “They always said hi to people, always greeted people — amazing, upstanding citizens.”
Mr. Hulleman said he and his classmates stayed 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 several hours that went on,” he said. “Everything’s kind of calmed down now. We’re just kind of settling in, and we’re all just talking to each other and supporting each other.”
Officers Jefferson and Painter were the sixth and seventh officers to be killed by gunfire 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 on Twitter on Tuesday night 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 research.