‘These women are warriors’: Georgia Southern students who survived kidnapping, sexual assault praised

Three Georgia Southern University students who were kidnapped at knifepoint near the campus drew strong praise from local police for their “strength and bravery” in helping authorities find the man accused of sexually assaulting two of them.

“These women are survivors, warriors,” Statesboro police said Monday in a Facebook post. “Their strength, intelligence and courage is what should be recognized and remembered in regards to this incident.”

The ordeal began about 9 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of the Food World grocery store, which is across from the Statesboro campus on Fair Road, officials said.

“These women were just minding their own business, trying to leave the parking lot, when a stranger threatened them with a knife and forced his way into their vehicle,” Statesboro police said in the post.

Once inside the vehicle, Bradley Justin Cochran allegedly forced the women to drive from the parking lot of the Bulloch County grocery store to Candler County. There, “he sexually assaulted two of the female occupants,” GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

Before they got to Candler County, the students created a diversion so one of them could escape — from the moving vehicle — to get help, according to police.

“Despite being in a terrifying, and potentially deadly, situation, these women kept their wits about them,” Statesboro police said. “... (The woman who escaped) was able to give law enforcement vital information that led to the identification of the suspect and helped locate the other two women, and most likely saved their lives.”

The other two students eventually got away and Cochran drove off in their vehicle, Miles said.

Police in Metter, about 187 miles of southeast of downtown Atlanta, said they learned of a vehicle fire about 10:15 p.m. Sunday.

“It was soon determined that the burning vehicle had a connection with three female Georgia Southern University students being kidnapped by Mr. Bradley Justin Cochran and taken to Baggett Farm Road in Candler County,” Metter police said in a Facebook post. “It's believed that he then took one of the GSU student’s cars and drove it behind Growers (supply warehouse) in Metter and set it on fire” before running from the scene.

Cochran’s body was found just after 10:15 a.m. Monday in the same city. He apparently committed suicide, authorities said.

RELATED: Man kidnapped 3 near Georgia Southern, sexually assaulted 2, killed himself, GBI says

His body was taken to the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office in Savannah to determine the official cause and manner of death.

“This investigation could have very easily ended in tragedy,” Statesboro police said, “but these women fought for their survival with every tool they had. And they won.”