High school principal remembers conversations with accused killer James Wright

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – We’re learning more about the past of an accused triple murder suspect in Southwest Virginia from his former principal.

James Michael Wright is accused of killing three young women in less than three weeks in the Mendota community.

He’s charged with capital murder in the deaths of Athina Hopson, Elizabeth Vanmeter and 17-year-old Joycelyn Alsup. Wright told investigators the women’s deaths were “accidental.”

News Channel 11 spoke to Vanmeter’s family Tuesday night.

Wright’s former high school principal told us they never saw any red flags.

Virginia High School Principal Ronnie Collins tells us Wright met with counselors on campus – but no one ever saw anything out of the ordinary.

“I remembered his face, just from the conversations that we had,” Principal Collins said he immediately recognized James Michael Wright’s face in local news reports.

Wright graduated from the school in 2014.

Collins said he spoke to Wright one-on-one multiple times.

“I was talking to the Army representative about my time in the service and he overheard it, and so he and I talked several times about it,” Collins said.

He said Wright spent time with day-treatment counselors on campus and didn’t cause much trouble.

“Every now and then he’d get into trouble like some high school kids do, but nothing major,” Collins said.

He is still in shock that his former student’s accused of killing three young women.

“It’s tragic when those things happen, and you look back and think, well, maybe in those conversations that I had with him, I could have made a difference,” Collins said.

Authorities are still looking for 25-year-old Athina Hopson’s body in the North Fork of Holston River.

A motive is still unclear in this case, we’re expecting to learn more when this case goes to trial.

Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman wants anyone who may have information about the investigation in Mendota to come forward.

If you have tips about the cases – call the sheriff’s office at 276-676-6000.

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