A witness who saw a University of Virginia student pull on a bus returning from a field trip, described to police how the gunman targeted specific victims – many of whom soccer players – shot one of them as he slept, a prosecutor said in court on Wednesday. The details emerged during the suspect’s first court appearance.
Albemarle County District Attorney James Hingeley said a witness who was shown a photo of the suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the shooter. Sunday night’s violence left three footballers dead and one player and another student injured.
The suspect, a former soccer player, appeared via video link from a local jail for Wednesday’s hearing. He has not pleaded to the numerous charges he faces and said he plans to hire a lawyer. A judge ordered him held without bond and appointed a public defender to represent him until he gets a private lawyer.
University officials and police said the 22-year-old suspect joined a group of about two dozen others on a Sunday field trip from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles away. When their bus returned to campus, authorities said the suspect opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
A witness told police the suspect pointed his gun at Chandler, shot him as he slept and Chandler slid to the floor, Hingeley said.
The witness said the suspect was “aiming at certain people” and not shooting randomly, according to Hingeley.
Responding officers found Chandler and Perry dead on the bus, Hingeley said. Davis died of his injuries in a hospital, he said.
The public defender appointed to represent the suspect did not address the merits of the charges on Wednesday. She also declined to comment outside of court.
The judge has scheduled a December status hearing in the case.
Authorities said the suspect was able to flee the scene of the shooting, triggering a manhunt and a 12-hour campus lockdown before being taken into custody elsewhere in the state late Monday morning. The suspect faces three counts of second degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and additional firearms charges.
The violence at the state’s flagship public university has sparked days of mourning among students and faculty, the wider Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed on Wednesday.
University President Jim Ryan said Monday authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive for the shooting. Court documents filed so far in the case have offered no additional insight, and Hingeley did not address a possible motive on Wednesday.
In a video statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday evening, Ryan said “it’s possible, and maybe likely, that we’ll never find a single thing that will explain this. We may also never really understand why this is happening. is produced.”
Ryan said the school “invites external review regarding the university’s interactions with the suspect and whether we did everything we could to prevent or avoid this tragedy.”
Also on Wednesday, the school announcement that he was canceling his last home game of the season scheduled for Saturday against Coastal Carolina. Ryan said Wednesday night there would instead be a memorial service on Saturday “to honor the lives” of the three footballers killed, as well as the two other injured students.
In announcing the cancellation, the university said in a press release that no decision has yet been made on whether UVA will play in its final game of the season Nov. 26 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
The suspect was a member of the football team during the 2018 season, a one-semester appointment, according to athletic director Carla Williams.
In interviews, her father expressed confusion and astonishment and apologized to the families of the victims.
Of the two students hospitalized, one was discharged from the medical center on Tuesday, according to Eric Swensen, spokesman for the health system.
Family members of team running back Mike Hollins said he underwent a second operation on Tuesday.
In her first TV interview since filming, Hollins’ mother, Brenda Hollins told CBS News that her son does not yet know that three of his friends and teammates were killed.
In court on Wednesday, Hingeley also reviewed the suspect’s criminal record. In February 2021, he was charged in Chesterfield County with possession of a concealed handgun without a license and was later given a 12-month suspended prison sentence, Hingeley said.
At the time of this arrest, the suspect had two warrants outstanding in connection with a hit and run accident with property damage and reckless driving from Petersburg. He was convicted on both counts and also received a 12-month suspended prison sentence on both, Hingeley said.
The university said the suspect’s failure to report the misdemeanor concealed weapon conviction was a consideration in an ongoing review of him by its threat assessment team. The university first said its office of student affairs referred the suspect’s case in late October to the university’s Judiciary Committee, a student-run body that could have taken disciplinary action. But late Tuesday night, a spokesperson confirmed the university had not escalated the report and was working on it.
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