Stunned community reflects after officers killed: ‘How could anything like this happen in Bridgewater?’

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Flowers, candles and balloons adorn the bench next to where Bridgewater College officers John Painter and JJ Jefferson were shot dead Tuesday.

After a 27-year-old Ashland man allegedly killed the men midday, eyes from across the Commonwealth and country peered to the small community south of Harrisonburg.

While the lawn of Memorial Hall no longer looked like a crime scene Wednesday night, the memory of the tragic incident remains as investigators trace specifics of the crime.

Half a mile west of the shooting site, prayer was poured out in the sanctuary of Bridgewater United Methodist Church.

Sitting fully masked and scattered among dozens of pews sat a congregation seeking solace, and maybe even an inkling of inspiration from a pastor admittedly gutted by Tuesday’s news.

“I felt sadness and grief in the very pit of my stomach,” Senior Pastor Steve McMillion proclaimed.

“How could anything happen like this here in Bridgewater?,” he added, as his voice reverberated within the church.

Among those seeking comfort following the terror were four police officers who sat in the front pew–they embraced one another after the final hymn.

Off-campus, town residents recalled the moments police with long guns ordered them indoors during the afternoon active-shooter threat.

“We needed to take cover,” Nate Miller said; adding that the tense moments reminded him of the training he received as a Charlottesville area community college professor to prepare for similar threats.

“I’m an educator, and I’m well aware of incidents such as Virginia Tech and Columbine,” he said.

Family and friends of the officers continue to share their own memories of how they contributed to their community.

Jefferson’s longtime friend Sean Biser hoped the officer would be remembred as “someone who put others before himself, and by the career he went into was a life of service…” “when he met you, he made you feel loved, and a part of this family”

Back at the church, McMillion paused, saying, “some have said that February 1, 2022 has changed their lives forever.”

“It certainly has for John Painter, JJ Jefferson and their families.”

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