Hamilton, 20, fired two shots at mathematics professor Tatyana Kravchuk, but was unable to continue after his gun jammed, Prince William County police Maj. Ray Colgan said. The professor was able to duck behind a desk and was not hit. No one was injured.
"Probably what prevented a further tragedy was that the gun jammed," Colgan said.
Hamilton bought the Marlin .30-06 bolt-action rifle Monday at a Dick's Sporting Goods store near the campus, police said.
Photo: Jason Michael Hamilton.
Hamilton was arraigned Wednesday on charges of attempted murder and discharging a firearm in a school zone. He was being held without bond, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Jan. 11.
David R. Daugherty, Hamilton's attorney, declined to comment on the charges and said his client's family is asking for privacy.
"He has two parents that love him, and obviously they're going through a tremendous ordeal," said Daugherty, who was hired by the family.
Tuesday afternoon's shooting caused students and professors to scramble for cover at Northern Virginia Community College's Woodbridge campus, about 25 miles south of Washington.
According to police, Hamilton walked into the classroom, pulled the rifle out of a bag and pointed it at Kravchuk. He missed with the first shot, at which point she dropped behind a desk and told students to leave the room, Colgan said.
Hamilton fired again and missed again, then dropped the gun on the floor after it jammed, Colgan said. He left the room, sat in a chair and waited for police. When officers arrived, he surrendered peacefully and confessed to the shooting, Colgan said.
Hamilton was upset about his grades before the shooting, said police.
Colgan praised the quick response of campus police, who had participated in a training exercise Sunday on how to deal with a school shooter.
Kravchuk, 58, an assistant professor, could not be reached for comment. She received her Ph.D. from the Altai Polytechnic Institute in Russia, according to the college's Web site.
The large house where Hamilton lives with his parents is in a new development in Prince William County, an outer suburb of Washington, and appeared empty Wednesday. An Audi sedan sat in the driveway, and whimsical holiday decorations, including a reindeer and a penguin, dotted the lawn.
Jarrod Zong, a former classmate of Hamilton's at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, rang the bell and left a poinsettia for the family on the front stoop. Zong, 19, said he was on the cross-country team with Hamilton, and that Hamilton appeared to have few friends apart from the team.
"He was definitely one of the nicest people," Zong said. "Other than the cross-country team, a lot of people didn't talk to him. The team was like his family."
Zong said he hadn't been in touch with Hamilton since they graduated.
No classes were held Wednesday at the Woodbridge campus, but students and staff were allowed to retrieve their belongings. People who were in the building at the time of the shooting described the panic that ensued when shots were heard and said they thought of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
Cesar Ochoa, 18, said he was in an adjacent classroom. He and several other students barricaded the door with tables, turned off the lights and huddled at the back of the room for about 25 minutes until police came, Ochoa said.
Dipak Roy, 58, an adjunct economics instructor, said he didn't realize what had happened until he went to the cafeteria and found it empty. A person in the hallway told him police had arrested a gunman but were still looking for others.
Wary of being mistaken for a shooter, Roy said he made his way back to his office and sat behind a desk with the lights off. Police eventually confronted him with assault weapons, and he slowly put his hands up.
Roy said he was wary of disgruntled students.
"We were joking about it with other faculty members: Maybe all the students deserve an A," he said.