4 students held hostage in class at tech school
By MATTHEW ROY, The Virginian-Pilot
© June 17, 2003
NORFOLK -- A Tidewater Tech nursing instructor held four students at gunpoint in a classroom for nearly two hours Monday morning, clearing the North Military Highway vocational school of hundreds of students and staff until the standoff ended with nobody hurt.
Police charged Judith Wooldridge, 54, of Virginia Beach, with four counts each of abduction and use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
``This woman was a very good teacher,'' said Gerald Yagen, the president and owner of Tidewater Tech. ``It's amazing and a little bit frightening,'' he said.
Yagen said Wooldridge has a doctorate from the University of South Carolina College of Nursing and had worked at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She was hired by the school last year, he said.
Court records in Virginia Beach show Wooldridge has made recent bizarre claims.
Wooldridge has filed seven lawsuits in Virginia Beach, four of them in General District Court and three in Circuit Court.
In one lawsuit, she claimed to be ``bugged by telepathy or computer chip,'' while living at a Virginia Beach hotel.
She complained of abuse by faculty and students at the school. ``The bugging is infiltrated there with employees and students knowing my whereabouts,'' she contended in the suit.
Circuit Judge A. Joseph Canada Jr. dismissed the suit last month.
Wooldridge then sued the judge. She has also sued the Virginia Beach police and Coca-Cola. She has claimed that she is being stalked by Coca-Cola trucks and poisoned by Diet Coke.
She was also due in a Virginia Beach courtroom this morning on a hit-and-run charge, court records show.
According to 13 News, a letter in one court file said she has been treated for schizoaffective disorder, a chronic mental illness that can involve mood swings and hallucinations.
The standoff occurred as Tidewater Tech is attempting to address deficiencies in its practical nursing program cited by the Virginia Board of Nursing.
Tidewater Tech stopped admitting new nursing students in May at the board's direction, said Paula B. Saxby, a deputy executive director for the board. The board gave the school 90 days to improve 15 problem areas. The board also suggested the school improve graduates' ability to pass a mandatory state exam. Currently, fewer than half do, Saxby said.
The armed standoff unfolded around 8:30 a.m.
Student Joe Brown said he was waiting for class to start with four female students. Wooldridge asked him to get a felt-tipped marker at the office. When he returned, the door was locked, and paper obscured the window in the door.
Brown said that soon after, a school official looked into the room through a gap in the paper, and said, ``Call 911!''
The building was emptying as many students arrived for classes. Students waited nearby while police took positions outside the building. Police hostage negotiators contacted Wooldridge by telephone, said Cpl. Bill Adams.
Adams said Wooldridge told negotiators at 10:10 a.m. she had put her .38-caliber handgun down. Students, however, said the hostages disarmed the woman. Police later refused to elaborate on what happened in the classroom.
Wooldridge was taken for questioning and was charged later Monday. She is being held without bond in the city jail.
It was unclear what effect, if any, Monday's incident will have on the school's status. In mid-August, state officials will determine how much progress the school has made, Saxby said. And they'll recommend to the Board of Nursing whether to approve the program.
``There's some major things they need to address,'' she said. She also said, ``It's not typical for programs to be in this kind of situation.''
In the worst-case scenario, she said, the board could recommend the program close.
Yagen said the school staff is addressing the situation. He said some of the deficiencies cited are minor and would only require the school to make a paperwork change.
``We feel confident we'll start enrolling again at the end of the 90 days,'' he said.
13 News and staff writer Jon Frank contributed to this report.
Reach Matthew Roy at email@example.com