The Prince William County Police Department swore in Officer Ashley M. Guindon on Friday, tweeting a photo of her and another new recruit and including a message: “Be safe!”
Twenty-four hours later, on her first day on the street, Guindon, 28, was one of three officers called to respond to a domestic-violence incident in Woodbridge, Va.
As they approached the front door of the single-family home on a quiet residential street, Ronald Williams Hamilton, 32, an Army staff sergeant stationed at the Pentagon, started shooting, officials said. Police do not yet know why. But all three officers were shot.
Guindon’s wounds were fatal.
The other officers were expected to recover but remained hospitalized Sunday.
Police said Hamilton’s wife, Crystal Hamilton, 29, called 911, but he shot and killed her before officers arrived. The couple’s 11-year-old son was home during the altercation and fled at some point, police said. He was not injured.
Guindon’s death drew an outpouring of sympathy from law enforcement professionals across the nation.
Guindon was remembered as someone who put “service above self,” as her former professor Chris Bonner put it. She was described as passionate about police work, determined to succeed and intelligent. She was a Marine Corps Reserve veteran.
“It’s the worst nightmare that could happen to any police officer and her family,” said Bonner, who is a former FBI special agent. “After 28 years in law enforcement, I’ve been to too many cop funerals. We all stand there stoically with a look of strength. Inside we are dying and weeping. That’s the kind of emotion I’m going through right now.”
Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert said at a news conference Sunday that he will probably pursue the death penalty against Hamilton, who is facing six charges including capital murder of a police officer, first-degree murder and two counts of malicious wounding of a police officer. Hamilton is being held without bond at the county jail and is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.
Prince William police identified the wounded officers as Jesse Hempen, 31, and David McKeown,33, eight- and 10-year veterans of the force. They did not disclose the nature of their injuries.
The incident began shortly before 5:40 p.m. Saturday, when the officers responded to a house in the 13000 block of Lashmere Court in Woodbridge. Prince William Police Chief Stephan M. Hudson said Hamilton and his wife had been involved in a day-long verbal altercation that escalated physically.
Hamilton allegedly opened fire as the officers made their way to front door.
Hudson said police were still investigating whether Hamilton shot from inside or outside the home and the position of the officers when they were struck by bullets. It’s also unclear how many shots were fired or whether officers fired.
Police said additional officers arrived on the scene and surrounded the house. Hamilton surrendered without further incident and Hudson said they found his wife’s body inside.
The wounded officers were flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital, where Hudson said Guindon died.
At some point during the incident, Zacarius Harris, 18, a neighbor, said he saw Hamilton’s son running away from the house, wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts. He was looking back at the house as he ran down the street. The boy ended up at a neighbor’s.
“He ran so fast I can’t even imagine how scared he must have been,” Harris said.
“It broke my heart,” he said.
Police said the boy is now in the care of family. One neighbor who heard the gunfire said she didn’t think it was shots because the neighborhood is normally so quiet.
The alleged gunman’s father, Ronald Whaley Hamilton, a retired major with the Charleston Police Department in South Carolina, said in a brief interview with The Washington Post that he and his family learned about the shooting Saturday night and are shocked.
He said he does not know any details about the shooting, but said his son had a “very good upbringing.” The elder Hamilton said his son joined the Army at age 18 and worked in information technology.
“We are grieving the same as all the people in Prince William County, as well as the law enforcement community across the United States,” Hamilton said. “Ronald has always been a calm person and a very friendly person. He had a bright future with the Army and military. We express our thoughts and condolences to everyone who is affected.”
Hamilton described his daughter-in-law as a “kind, humble, energetic and wonderful person” who worked with wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that she and his son met after high school in South Carolina.
Ebert said officers recovered two guns from the scene, a high-powered rifle and a .45-caliber handgun. Ebert did not know if one or both were used in the shooting, but he said they were not U.S. military weapons.
Ebert and police said they could not comment on whether there had been previous calls to the Hamilton home. Officer Jonathan Perok, a Prince William police spokesman, said the initial 911 call came in as a domestic dispute. There were no reports of shots fired.
Guindon was a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics. She served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and had relatives in law enforcement. None returned calls for comment.
It also was not the first tragedy her family had suffered while in uniform. Guindon’s father, an Air National Guardsman, committed suicide in 2004, one day after returning from a tour in Iraq.
Bonner, the assistant professor at Embry-Riddle, said he had hundreds of students since Guindon, but he still remembered her distinctly. She was punctual, attentive and always participated in class. She lingered afterward to ask questions and often visited with him to discuss her career, all while juggling her service in the Marine Corps Reserve.
“She was a professor’s dream,” Bonner said.
Guindon graduated from the school in 2010 and took graduate classes at George Washington University, according to officials there.
Hudson said Guindon entered the academy for Prince William police in January 2015 and graduated in June. She left the academy before coming back this year.
“She couldn’t get it out of her blood,” Hudson said. “She clearly had a passion to serve others.”
Guindon’s cruiser was draped in black bunting and parked at county police headquarters Sunday. People dropped off flowers and other tokens.
She was only the second county police officer to die in a malicious attack in the history of the department.
During a vigil Sunday night, more than 500 people packed the Sean Connaughton Plaza for the ceremony honoring Guindon.
A giant American flag hung over the plaza, draped from two fire department ladders.
Officers and grieving Prince William residents took the vigil as an opportunity to reflect on Guindon’s life.
“We’re here first and foremost to honor and remember Ashley, to praise her life and her service and her sacrifice,” the police chief said. “It was in her blood. She felt passion for doing it.”
Hudson described the moments before the confrontation at the Hamilton home.
“When the subject who was later arrested tried to force the door closed and shut them out of the home, they fought to protect what ended up being his wife,” Hudson said. “The subject then suddenly opened fire.”
He addressed officers and emergency personnel who may have felt demoralized after what happened.
“I say, don’t lose heart,” he said. “We sometimes have the very unenviable task of dealing with true evil . . . we must never shy from these tasks.”
Guindon was a member of the Class of 2005 at Merrimack High School in Merrimack, N.H., a suburb between Manchester and Nashua.
Kenneth W. Johnson, who has been the school’s principal for 14 years, said Guindon personified the best that the school had to offer. He said she was a member of a uniquely talented class and one that has suffered more than its share of loss: six members of the class are known to have died, including one during senior year. That pain brought everyone closer, Johnson said. Their theme was “Forever Young.”
Guindon, who had been a cheerleader at least for a time, had lost her father the year before. Her yearbook inscription was dedicated to her mother and departed father, and it made for difficult reading, Johnson said.
“Mom, thanks for everything,” Guindon wrote, according to Johnson. “It’ll be a long road but we can manage, and it will only make us stronger. . . . As I take flight, it only makes me closer to you, Daddy.”
And then her quote: “Live for something rather than die for nothing.”
“This is just particularly devastating. And it’s really hard for me personally to comprehend someone who’s given her life to service who loses her life on the first day,” Johnson said. “It’s too much.”
One of Crystal Hamilton’s best friends, Shayna Colunga, said Hamilton’s husband was sometimes jealous of the men his wife assisted at the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Bethesda.
“He was just jealous. She had said he didn’t like her working where she did because she was around a lot of men,” Colunga said. “He would just tell her that he wanted her to quit her job and that he didn’t want her to work. She was so beautiful. She dressed to the nines and loved her high heels. She didn’t need makeup.”
Colunga said she is unaware of what specifically precipitated the couple’s fight Saturday and that the woman never expressed fears about Ronald Hamilton physically harming her.
She said Hamilton kept his .45-caliber weapon in his car, but didn’t know where he stored the assault weapon. Crystal Hamilton knew that her husband had weapons but didn’t mind. Colunga said he attended a gun show in Dulles earlier this month but didn’t buy anything.
The couple, she said, celebrated their son’s 11th birthday Wednesday.
Sunday afternoon, friends erected a memorial for Crystal Hamilton outside her home. Bright flowers, candles and a teddy bear framed a posterboard of photos, all taken by the victim.
Colunga said Crystal Hamilton shared a special bond with her son. They’d all planned on going to Red Lobster to celebrate his birthday, but their plans were interrupted by Wednesday’s severe weather.
“That was her munchkin. She called him her munchkin, her best friend,” Colunga said.
Hawla Donley, another friend, said Crystal Hamilton had been getting over a cold, so she checked in with her Saturday morning. Donley wanted to make sure her friend was still up for a girls’ night out, planned for the evening.
Hamilton’s text back read:
“I’m not 100% but I’m alive and will make it,” followed by a smile emoji.
Fredrick Kunkle, Lynh Bui and researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.