BRIDGEWATER, Va. (WRIC) — Less than 24 hours after two officers campus officers were killed by an active shooter at Bridgewater College, a Glen Allen mother with a student at the college spoke with 8News about the horrors that unfolded just outside her daughter’s classroom.
Antoinette Freeman said she received the first text that something was wrong around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Her daughter, sophomore Abby Freeman, described moving from a classroom with glass enclosures to one with greater security, where they were on lockdown.
“‘Mom, I’m barricaded. I’m barricaded in a classroom. There’s a shooter on campus,'” Antoinette Freeman recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I honestly couldn’t believe it.”
Abby Freeman told her mother that the students and professor inside her classroom had pushed a desk up against the door to barricade themselves inside, where they sat, in silence, and waited.
“We spent about three hours texting back and forth. I was checking in with her,” Antoinette Freeman said. “I was asking her how she was doing. Is she okay? Are the people she’s with okay?”
Antoinette Freeman said she even, unthinkingly, picked up the phone to FaceTime her daughter.
“She disconnected me and said, ‘Mom, I can’t talk to you. We have to be absolutely quiet,'” Antoinette said. “That’s, I think, when it hit me that these children were in danger.”
Abby Freeman graduated from Collegiate School, where she was a three-sport athlete. She has continued her athletic career at Bridgewater College, where Antoinette Freeman said she always felt safe.
“I had never thought that my children would be involved in a situation where they feared for their lives,” she said. “Even though I know that there are a lot of shootings that are going on, you always think it can’t happen to you or your family, and I was just in complete and total shock. Bridgewater’s a great school. It’s safe.”
According to Virginia State Police (VSP), the incident began at approximately 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, when a Bridgewater College Police Officer and a Bridgewater College Campus Safety Officer responded to a call for a suspicious adult male on the grounds of Memorial Hall. After a brief interaction with the man, authorities said that the suspect opened fire and shot both officers, then ran away.
Immediately following a 9-1-1 call, the Bridgewater College Police Department, Town of Bridgewater Police Department, Virginia State Police, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, City of Harrisonburg Police, Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Dayton Police Department and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Conservation Police responded to the scene. Search efforts were underway across the campus.
A man fitting the shooter’s description was reportedly found on Riverside Drive in the Town of Bridgewater. VSP said he then waded through the North River and onto an island, where authorities were able to take him into custody without further incident.
The suspect was identified as Alexander Wyatt Campbell, 27, of Ashland, Va. Authorities said that he was suffering from a non-life-threatening gunshot wound, for which he was hospitalized. VSP is working to determine if Campbell was shot by the Bridgewater College Police Officer or whether it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The fallen officers were identified as John E. Painter, 55, and Vashon “JJ” A. Jefferson, 48. Despite the efforts of responding officers and paramedics, they reportedly succumbed to their injuries on scene.
Antoinette Freeman said that her daughter ended up staying on campus Tuesday night, unsure of whether classes would resume on Thursday, after Wednesday’s cancellation. Wednesday afternoon, however, a Bridgewater College spokesperson confirmed to 8News that classes would be canceled for the remainder of the week, to resume on Monday, Feb. 7.
That’s when Abby Freeman decided to come home.
“It’s slowly sinking in what could have happened, had those officers not stepped up, what could have happened if the police did not respond as quickly as they did,” Antoinette Freeman said. “Life is very, very fragile. Those two officers had families. They were friends. I can’t imagine what their families are going through.”