CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A University of Virginia student and former member of the school’s football team shot dead three current players as they were returning from a field trip, authorities said, sparking panic and a 12-hour campus lockdown until the suspect was caught on Monday.
Students who were told to take shelter on the spot from late Sunday described horrifying hours in hiding. While police searched for the shooter all night, students sought safety in closets, dormitories, libraries and apartments. They listened to police scanners and tried to remember everything they were taught as children at active shooter drills.
“I think we were all just very unsettled and trying to keep a cool head and level head during the situation,” said student Shannon Lake.
Officials learned during a morning news conference that the suspect, 22-year-old Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., had been arrested.
“Just give me a moment to thank God and breathe a sigh of relief,” university police chief Timothy Longo Sr. said after learning Jones was in custody.
The violence erupted near a parking garage just after 10:15 p.m. Sunday when a charter bus full of students was returning to Charlottesville after watching a play in Washington.
University President Jim Ryan said authorities did not have a “complete understanding” of the motive or circumstances surrounding the shooting.
“The entire university community is in mourning this morning,” said a visibly tense Ryan.
The killings come at a time when the nation has been threatened by a string of mass shootings over the past six months, including an attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb that left seven people dead and more than 30 injured; and a shooting at a convenience store in Buffalo, New Yorkwhich killed 10 people and wounded three.
Lake, a third-year student from Crozet, Virginia, ended up spending the night with friends in a lab room, most of the time in a closet.
Elizabeth Paul, a student from Northern Virginia, was working at a computer in the library when she received a call from her mother, who found out about the shooting.
Paul said she initially dismissed any concerns, thinking it was probably something small. She realized she had to take this seriously when her computer lit up with a warning of an active shooter.
“I think it was like, ‘Run. Hide. Fight,'” she said.
Paul said she stayed huddled in the library with several others. She spent most of the night on the phone with her mother.
“I didn’t necessarily talk to her all the time, but she wanted the line to be on so she’d be there if I needed anything,” she said.
Ryan identified the three murdered students as Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
Two students were injured and taken to the hospital, Ryan said.
Mike Hollins, a running back for the football team, was in stable condition Monday, his mother Brenda Hollins told The Associated Press.
“Mike’s a fighter — and he shows it,” she said after flying from Louisiana to Virginia. “We have great doctors who have worked with him. And most importantly, we have God’s grace and God’s hands on him.”
The shooting sparked an intense manhunt that included a building-by-building search of the campus. The ban was lifted late Monday morning.
Jones was taken into custody without incident in a Richmond suburb, police said.
The arrest warrants for Jones charged him with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, Longo said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Jones had an attorney or when he would first appear in court.
Jones had been on the soccer team once, but he hadn’t been part of the team for at least a year, Longo said. The UVA football website listed him as a team member during the 2018 season and said he did not take part in any games.
Hours after Jones was arrested, first-year head coach Tony Elliott sat alone outside the sports building used by the team, sometimes with his head in his hands. He said the victims were “all good kids.”
“These valuable young men were called away too soon. We are all fortunate to have them in our lives. They have touched us, inspired us and worked incredibly hard as representatives of our program, our university and our community,” he said in a statement.
The university’s threat assessment team became aware of Jones this fall after a person unaffiliated with the school reported a remark that Jones appeared to have made about possession of a gun, Longo said.
No threat was reported related to the concern about the gun, but officers were investigating and pursuing Jones’ roommate.
Longo also said Jones was involved in “some kind of investigation.” He said he did not have all the facts and circumstances of this case, although he said the investigation was dropped after witnesses failed to cooperate.
In addition, officers learned of a previous incident outside of Charlottesville involving a gun violation, Longo said. This incident was not reported to the university as it should have been, he said.
Em Gunter, a sophomore in anthropology, heard three gunshots and then three more while studying genetics in her dorm room.
She knew immediately there was an active Sagittarius outside and urged others to go to their rooms, close their blinds, and turn off the lights. For the next 12 hours, she stayed in her room with a friend, tapping a police scanner and notifying her family and friends who were stuck in other areas of campus.
Students know how to respond from active marksmanship practice, she said.
“But how do we deal with it afterwards?” she asked. “How will it be in a week, in a month?”
Eva Surovell, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper The Cavalier Daily, noted that her generation grew up with “general gun violence.”
“But that doesn’t make it any easier when it comes to your own community,” she said.
Classes and other academic activities have been canceled for Tuesday. A university-wide vigil was planned for a later date.
Scores of believers gathered Monday night on the campus of St. Paul’s Memorial Church for a prayer service.
“Have pity on us and all who mourn the loss of Devin, Lavel and D’Sean, innocent people slaughtered by the violence of our fallen world,” one official said in prayer.
Elsewhere, police in Moscow, Idaho, were investigating the deaths of four University of Idaho students found in a house near campus on Sunday. Authorities released few details other than saying the deaths were described as homicides.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ben Finley of Norfolk, Virginia; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Sarah Brumfield of Silver Spring, Maryland; John Seewer of Toledo, Ohio; Hank Kurz of Charlottesville, Virginia; Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire; and news researcher Rhonda Shafner; and video journalist Nathan Ellegren and photographer Steve Helber in Charlottesville.