RICHMOND, Va. -- Two officers who were shot to death on the campus of a private college in Virginia were mourned as heroes Wednesday by their families, friends and police officers from around the country.
About 3,000 people attended the memorial service for Bridgewater College campus police office John Painter and campus safety officer J.J. Jefferson, who were gunned down on Feb. 1 when they responded to reports of a suspicious man on campus. Painter and Jefferson were close friends who were known as “the dynamic duo" on the campus of the small liberal arts college.
Speakers at the service — including Gov. Glenn Youngkin — hailed the officers' bravery and said they may have saved countless lives by confronting the gunman.
Alexander Wyatt Campbell, a 27-year-old former student at the college, was arrested shortly after the shootings and has been charged with murder. Authorities have not discussed any motive for the killings. Campbell's mother, Cheryl Campbell, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch her son struggled with mental illness.
Police officers from public and private universities across Virginia attended the memorial service, as did officers from police departments around the country, including New York, Delaware, Oklahoma and Chicago. The service was held at an arena at James Madison University in Harrisonburg to accommodate the large crowd.
Painter, 55, was remembered as a devoted father, avid hunter and dedicated law enforcement officer. He retired as chief of the Grottoes Police Department in 2018 after 18 years on the force before joining Bridgewater's Campus Police and Safety Department.
“If ever a man was meant to be a police officer, it was John Painter,” said Charles Lawhorne, who served as the Grottoes police chief before Painter.
“Throughout his career, he was loved by the community and served as a role model for fellow officers,” Lawhorne said.
Jefferson, 48, was remembered as a man who loved his family, his job and the students at Bridgewater College.
“He was truly a man of the people, caring for them with an unassuming genuine heart of service," said pastor Michael Miller, of Crosslink Community Church.
“J.J. made his moments matter, right up to the very last as he served with his very life,” he said.
Painter's daughter, Courtney, read a poem, “Greatest Hero,” by an unknown author, to pay tribute to her father.
“When I hear about a hero, and the great things they have done, it reminds me of my father, he is the greatest one,” she said.
Painter's nephews, Jacob and Austin Painter, sang “Knocking on Heaven's Door” by Bob Dylan and a song they wrote themselves, "Until We Meet Again," which had Painter's friends wiping tears from their eyes.
Youngkin told the crowd that Painter and Jefferson knew their jobs were dangerous, but “were willing to sacrifice everything in our common defense.”
“John and JJ did this for each other and they did it for all of us,” Youngkin said. “We must celebrate them. We must honor them and we must always remember them.”