BRIDGEWATER, Va. (WRIC) — Bridgewater College in Rockingham County went into lockdown earlier today after an active shooter was reported on campus. The college has confirmed that two campus officers were killed in the line of duty.
The victims were Campus Police Officer John Painter and Campus Safety Officer J.J. Jefferson, who the college said were close friends known on campus as the “dynamic duo.”
In a statement, Bridgewater President David Bushman said Painter had been the best man at Jefferson’s wedding, and called their deaths an “unspeakable tragedy.”
“I pray for that peace which passes all understanding for John and J.J.’s families and for all of us,” Bushman said. “Please take care of yourself and each other.”
According to the Bridge Campus Police Chief Milton Franklin, Painter started with the department in May 2019 and Jefferson joined the department in August 2018.
The college said state and local law enforcement responded to the campus after reports that two police officers had been shot and an armed suspect was on campus.
One mom of a Bridgewater College student told 8News she was on the phone with her son after he escaped a windowless closet where he hid with 17 of his classmates and his professor. She said her son told her what happened was surreal.
Senior Tyler Tabor said he was 10 to 15 feet away from the shooter as shots rang out.
“Seven shots went off. It was bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. Still in my head now. It’s crazy,” he described, saying he and about 15 other students were trapped in a bathroom for an hour until the lockdown was lifted.
He said he passed his phone to other students so they could talk to their families.
“Everyone really just like had their phones and started calling their parents, calling their moms and just, it felt like almost like a last goodbye,” Tabor said.
Tabor said the officers are the reason he and the other students are still alive.
Student Kai Bowman described a tense atmosphere as those on campus waited in lockdown, “No one really knew where he was or what he was planning to do next or if he had been caught yet.”
Both Bridgewater College parents 8News spoke with call the two officers who died “heroes”, saying everyone at the small campus loved both of them.
Bridgewater College said Virginia State Police had an individual in custody at 2:08 pm – but initially urged students and staff to continue sheltering in place as the “situation [was] still ongoing.”
Around 4:30 p.m., they announced that the scene was all clear.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted confirmation that the individual in custody was believed to be the shooter, saying, “The shooter is in custody and state and local police are on the scene.”
Following the shootings, police moved from building to building “for additional safety purposes,” and those sheltering in place were urged to remain calm and listen to law enforcement officers.
The college, located in the Shenandoah Valley just 15 minutes away from James Madison University, first reported the situation at 1:24 p.m.
State Police were reported on the scene at 1:31 p.m., just seven minutes after the initial alert was sent out.
Twenty-seven minutes later, at 1:58 p.m., the college told everyone on campus to “let your loved ones know you are okay.”
Later in the afternoon, Bridgewater said that the suspect was taken into police custody at 1:55 p.m.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares tweeted after the incident asking others to join him in prayer for the Bridgewater community and the law enforcement officers involved. Sen. Mark Warner also stated on Twitter that he was continuing to monitor the situation and was praying for everyone involved.
Law enforcement officers from 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 played a role in the response to the active shooter.
Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) released a statement after the double shooting, calling the incident “devastating and heartbreaking.”
“I do not know what evil is responsible for this terrible and heartbreaking event. It is clear that something is wrong in our society when tragedies like this occur. Whether it is hate, drugs, mental illness or some other underlying factor, these are urgent priorities on which we must work together,” Obenshain said.
He said the Shenandoah Valley is typically caring and supportive but that evil can “lurk in the shadows of any community.”
Another lawmaker representing the area, Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Rockingham) expressed prayers for the officer’s families and gratitude to those who responded to the shooting. Hanger said that the two officers were killed, however Virginia State Police has not confirmed the condition of the two officers who were shot.
“On a picturesque, small-town campus our worst fears came true but this community will no doubt support each other and prove it truly is a family of Eagles who will rally and fly together to overcome,” Hanger said.
Bridgewater College President Dr. David Bushman and Virginia State Police addressed the public following a double fatal shooting on the college campus this afternoon. More on that press briefing can be found here.