Tragic events harm VA campus communities

College campuses in Virginia have seen a slew of tragic events recently, including active shooter tragedies at Bridgewater College and near Virginia Tech. Additionally, a suicide occured at James Madison University, and another occured in the city of Harrisonburg just miles away from the campus. 

Alexander Campbell, a former Bridgewater College student-athlete, currently faces charges for the deaths of campus police officer John Painter and campus safety officer J.J. Jefferson. The shooting took place on Feb. 1. Campbell was previously banned from the college campus due to trespassing in 2017.

Sarah Kerns, a junior at Bridgewater College, was on campus during the shooting that resulted in the deaths of the two members of the community. 

“The tragedy that hit my campus on February 1 is one that I will never forget,” said Kerns. “Receiving the text that a place I call home was under attack less than a thousand feet from me gave me a feeling of anxiety I never knew I could feel. I was truly afraid that day but not for myself, I was afraid that my home was going to be shattered in the wake of everything.” 

Despite the heartbreaking event, Kerns was impressed with the support that the Bridgewater College community received from the surrounding neighborhoods and other colleges. 

“Instead of breaking, the Bridgewater community and our surrounding communities came together and we helped each other through the unimaginable,” said Kerns. “I will forever be grateful for the sacrifice that Officer Painter and Officer Jefferson made that afternoon and there will never be enough words for me to express my gratitude and condolences to their families. The Bridgewater College community is strong, and I am beyond grateful to be a part of it.”

James Madison University is just down the road from Bridgewater College, and also faced hardships within its campus community. A suicide occured on campus and another one occured shortly after in a downtown area of Harrisonburg. 

Katie Mayhugh, a fourth year psychology major at JMU, felt the repercussions of the events for weeks after. 

“It was very unsettling to learn about what had happened,” said Mayhugh. “I didn’t learn about the first tragedy until the second one happened, which I think JMU could have handled better. My professors were amazing though. They allowed us to vote on whether or not to have class. It felt comforting to know that there were people looking out for our best interests.”

Going forward, Mayhugh hopes for preventative measures and better resources for students throughout the state. 

“I think the events that have unfolded these past few weeks here at JMU should rightfully motivate not only other schools to raise more awareness about the importance of mental health but everyone as a whole as well,” said Mayhugh. 

The other shooting that occurred was in Blacksburg on Feb. 4. The events took place in the downtown area, not far from the main campus of Virginia Tech. One individual died and four more were injured. The suspect in custody is Jamel Duquon, a resident of the City of Roanoke. One of the injured individuals was a Virginia Tech student.

Not long after the incident, the VT Dean of Students office, Cook Counseling Center, Hokie Wellness and Residence Life began reaching out to their campus community to provide support. 

Brynn Vandegriff, a senior at Virginia Wesleyan University, hopes that these recent events can be a learning moment for other schools and will lead to better mental health resources. 

“As a college student, it means a lot to know that our campus is safe both in a physical and mental sense,” said Vandegriff. “We need to make sure that members of our community have access to mental health resources so that preventable tragedies don’t happen here. I hope that the school continues to make this a safe space and isn’t satisfied with doing just enough.”

April Christman, the director of health at VWU, has clinical expertise in social work and counseling. She specializes in depression, anxiety, self-esteem, stress management, grief, trauma and substance abuse. 

“We have a more robust counseling staff than we have ever had on campus because we have so many undergraduate interns,” said Christman. “They are either Masters in Social Work students or Masters in Counseling students. We have five which allows us to have a satellite office in the learning center… We have eight counselors in total on our staff.”

Christman can be contacted for counseling services by email at or by phone at (757) 455-3131 (x3131). Counseling services are available daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Batten 211.

By Katie Yeager