Prosecutor: Witness Police UVA Suspect Victim
Charlottesville, Va. (AP) – A witness who saw a University of Virginia student shooting on a bus returning from a field trip told police the gunman targeted specific victims – many of them football players – and shot one while he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
The details emerged during the suspect’s first court appearance, the same day students returned to class and university announcement It is canceling its Saturday football game in the wake of the deadly shooting.
A witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the gunman, prosecutors said. Three football players died and one player and another student were injured in the violence on Sunday night.
Jones, a former football player, appeared via video link from a local jail for a court hearing Wednesday. He has pleaded not guilty to the numerous charges he faces and said he plans to hire an attorney. A judge ordered him held without bond and appointed a public defender to represent him until he receives private counsel.
University officials and police said Jones, who turned 23 on Thursday, joined a group of about two dozen others on Sunday’s field trip from the Charlottesville campus to watch a game in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) away. When their bus returned to campus, authorities said Jones opened fire, killing him Lavelle Davis Jr., De’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
Police said Jones was able to flee the scene of the shooting, setting off a manhunt and 12 hours campus lockdown Which has left many students disappointed. He faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun charges.
The violence at the state’s flagship public university has sparked days of mourning among students and faculty, the greater Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed Wednesday, as the school announced it was canceling its final home game of the season scheduled for the weekend against Coastal Carolina. No decision has yet been made on the final game of the season Nov. 26 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Students describe a range of emotions when they return to class.
“It’s a pretty surreal experience, to be honest,” said Carter Pollen, a fourth-year student studying systems engineering and economics. “It’s nice to see a friendly face, but I think everyone is trying to feel normal again, despite all the odds.”
Sophomore Caden Kennedy said many students have returned to class, “but there are some people who are home and need to be home.”
“I think the university itself is very aware of the fact that not everyone is ready to come back,” Kennedy said. “Teachers are definitely trying to work with everyone where everyone is.”
University graduate students are not required to complete any graded assignments or take tests before Thanksgiving break. University President Jim Ryan opened his on-campus home to students this week afternoon, and a memorial service for the victims is in the works.
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingley gave a brief account of what happened Sunday night after police responded to a report of shots fired near a parking garage.
A witness told police the suspect pointed a gun at Chandler, shot him as he slept, and Chandler slid to the floor, Hingley said.
The witness said Jones was “targeting specific people” and was not shooting randomly, according to Hingley.
Ryan said Monday that authorities don’t have a “full understanding” of the motive behind the shooting. Court documents offered no additional insight, and Hingley did not address a possible motive Wednesday.
The public defender appointed to represent Jones did not address the content of the complaint Wednesday. He also declined to comment outside court.
Jones, who has been in custody since his arrest Monday morning in suburban Richmond, appeared somber. He did not speak during the hearing except to answer questions from the judge, including his employment and ability to pay for an attorney.
Jones, a walk-on member of the football team during the 2018 season, had worked part-time for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia since September, the group’s CEO Kate Lambert confirmed in an emailed statement.
Hingley reviewed Jones’ past criminal record in court Wednesday. In February 2021, Jones was charged in Chesterfield County with carrying a concealed handgun without a permit and was later given a 12-month suspended sentence, Hingley said.
At the time of that arrest, Jones had two outstanding warrants out of Petersburg for a hit-and-run accident with property damage and reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to both charges and received a 12-month suspended sentence for both, Hingley said.
The university said Jones failed to report the felony concealed weapons conviction in an ongoing review of Jones by its threat-assessment team. The university initially said its office of student affairs escalated Jones’ case in late October to the University Judiciary Committee, a student-run body that can take disciplinary action. But late Tuesday night, spokesman Brian Coy confirmed that the university had not actually escalated the report. It finally did so Tuesday night, Coy said.
According to a public agenda, the university’s governing board – the Board of Visitors – held an emergency meeting Wednesday to receive briefings from law enforcement, emergency management officials, staff members and legal counsel on the shooting and investigation. Board meetings are held in executive session. The public was not allowed to attend, and a university spokeswoman said board members would have no comment.
One of the two hospitalized students was released from UVA Medical Center on Tuesday, according to health system spokesman Eric Swansen.
A spokesman for the family of Mike Hollins, who ran over the team with a gunshot wound to the back, said he was showing signs of improvement after a second surgery on Tuesday. He was taken off the ventilator and able to visit family and friends in his hospital room, said Joe Gipson, chief operating officer of a law firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Hollins’ mother, Brenda Hollins, works. Gipson later issued a statement reiterating that Hollins is going to use his long recovery with the same determination on the field and in the classroom.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.
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