LYNCHBURG, Va. – Students and staff at Liberty University are shocked to hear one of their own criminally charged.
William Atwell, 58, was charged with felony abduction by force/intimidation and misdemeanor sexual battery.
Atwell, who has now been suspended by Liberty, was an associate professor teaching different American Sign Language classes.
When Liberty University senior Hailey Wilkinson came back from Thanksgiving break, she said her ASL professor, Atwell, did not return.
“When asked on Tuesday if he was okay, because we knew he’d been sick, they simply just told us he was fine. We didn’t know at the time what ‘fine’ meant,” Wilkinson said of university officials.
Wilkinson said students were told Atwell wouldn’t be back this semester. It wasn’t until late Tuesday she learned Atwell spent the last week in jail on charges of kidnapping and sexual battery.
He made bail at $300,000 to get out of jail on Monday.
“I couldn’t believe it. I saw his mug shot. I was very disturbed by it and grieved because it was a man I felt I trusted,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson and other students like Olivia Couch say they feel betrayed since Atwell was a professor they loved and respected.
“I have many different professors now at the community college. They are some of my favorite people. Some of them are guys. Hearing that news, it puts distrust in my mind,” said Couch, who is a former Liberty University student.
Couch took one of his classes her freshmen year, but she left Liberty the following semester, saying these things happen often and she didn’t feel safe.
“I took one fall semester and I just saw a lot of things I wasn’t a fan of. I’ve had personal experiences like the one stated and it’s scary,” said Couch.
When 10 News reached out to the university, this is what they had to say:
“Liberty University takes nothing more seriously than claims that a faculty member has had inappropriate sexual contact with one of our students, something for which there is zero tolerance. We are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness, care, and concern. With the student’s consent, the university turned the matter over to the appropriate legal authorities and the faculty member in question was arrested. The faculty member has also been suspended by the university pending the outcome of this matter. To protect the integrity of investigation and the privacy of the student, we will limit further comment.”Liberty University spokesperson
Still, students say it’s not enough.
“I’m very angry right now. I urge the university to speak to their students,” said Wilkinson.
Though he’s currently suspended, Atwell worked with the university since 2013.
His court date is set for Jan. 25, 2022.