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Liberty University student shot to death after attacking campus officer with hammer

Liberty University students watch as police investigate a fatal shooting at an off-campus women's dormitory in Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University students watch as police investigate a fatal shooting at an off-campus women's dormitory in Lynchburg, Va.Jill Nance - The News & Advance / AP

A campus security officer shot and killed a male college student at an off-campus women's dormitory Tuesday in Lynchburg, Va., after the student attacked him with a hammer, authorities said.

The student, identified as Joshua Hathaway, 19, of Lubbock, Texas, a freshman at Liberty University, told the security officer about 4:15 a.m. that someone had stolen his car, police said in a search warrant affidavit filed in Lynchburg District Court and provided by the university.

For an unknown reason, Hathaway then "pulled out a hammer from his clothing and assaulted the officer" in the dormitory's lobby. The officer fired two shots in response, striking Hathaway at least once, according to the affidavit.

The officer, who wasn't identified, was suspended pending the investigation, the university said.

Police remained mystified by what could have precipitated the attack — especially since Hathaway's car was found in a parking lot just a short distance away, and particularly since he was in a women's dorm at a school that strictly bans students from entering residence halls of the opposite sex.

According to the court affidavit, a roommate told investigators that Hathaway had been "displaying unusual behavior" and had run into classroom and financial problems.

The violence was especially shocking at Liberty, the world's largest evangelical Christian college, which was founded in 1971 by the late preacher and political activist Jerry Falwell.

Falwell's son, Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's president, told reporters that the campus community was "deeply saddened by what happened — it has impacted our community in ways that we are just now beginning to understand."

Falwell said he planned to address students at a campus convocation Wednesday.

"It's events like this where we feel like it's our duty as a Christian university to pull together and to support everybody as much as possible," he said. "That's what our focus has been all day today and will continue to be throughout this ordeal."

Hathaway graduated near the top of his class in May at Southcrest Christian School in Lubbock with a grade-point average of 4.57 and was studying business at Liberty on a full academic scholarship.

His mother is a teacher at the academy, Superintendent Linda Merriott told NBC station KCBD of Lubbock. Pastors and counselors were called in to help students and staffers at the school, for whom the news was "truly devastating," she said.

"I loved this young man and believed in him and would do just about anything to help him," Merriott said. "He's a great kid – was a great kid."

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