Prosecutor: Witness told police UVA suspect was targeting victims

Prosecutor: Witness told police UVA suspect was targeting victims

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire on a bus returning from a field trip tells police the shooter targeted specific victims – many of whom were football players – by shooting one while he slept, a prosecutor said. in court on Wednesday.

The details emerged during the suspect’s first court appearance, the same day students returned to class and the university announced he was canceling his Saturday football game following the fatal shooting.

A witness who was shown a photo of the suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the shooter, the prosecutor said. Sunday night’s violence left three footballers dead and one player and another student injured.

Jones, a former soccer player, appeared via video link from a local jail for the court hearing on Wednesday. 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 Jones, who turns 23 on Thursday, joined a group of about two dozen others on a Sunday excursion from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 195 kilometers away. When their bus returned to campus, authorities said Jones opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler..

Police say Jones was able to flee the scene of the shooting, triggering a manhunt and a 12-hour campus lockdown which left many students petrified. He 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 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 regarding his final game of the season on Nov. 26 against Virginia Tech at Blacksburg.

Students described a range of emotions upon returning to class.

“It’s a pretty surreal experience, to be honest,” said Carter Paulen, a fourth-year systems engineering and economics student. “It’s good to see some friendly faces, but I think everyone is trying to feel normal again in the face of all the adversity.”

Caden Kennedy, a sophomore, said many students have returned to class, “but there are people who are home and need to be home.”

“I think the university itself is very aware that not everyone is ready to come back,” Kennedy said. “Teachers definitely try to work with everyone where everyone is.”

The university will not require undergraduates to complete graded assignments or take exams before the Thanksgiving break. University President Jim Ryan opened his on-campus house to students this afternoon, and a memorial service for the victims is in the works.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Albemarle County District Attorney James Hingeley gave a brief account of what police said happened Sunday night after officers responded to a report of beatings. fire drawn near a parking lot.

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 Jones was “aiming at certain people” and not shooting randomly, according to Hingeley.

Ryan said Monday that authorities do not have a “full understanding” of the motive for the shooting. Court documents provided no additional insight, and Hingeley did not address a possible motive on Wednesday.

The public defender appointed to represent Jones did not address the merits of the charges on Wednesday. She also declined to comment outside of court.

Jones, who has been in custody since being arrested in suburban Richmond late Monday morning, appeared grim. He did not speak at the hearing except to answer the judge’s questions, including about his employment and his ability to afford a lawyer.

Jones, an occasional member of the football team during the 2018 season, had been working part-time for Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia since September, the group’s CEO Kate Lambert confirmed in an emailed statement.

Hingeley also reviewed Jones’ criminal record in court on Wednesday. In February 2021, Jones was charged in Chesterfield County with possession of a concealed handgun without a license and later received a 12-month suspended prison sentence, Hingeley said.

At the time of this arrest, Jones had two outstanding warrants 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 Jones’ failure to report the misdemeanor concealed weapon conviction was a consideration in an ongoing review of Jones by its threat assessment team. The university initially said its office of student affairs referred Jones’ case in late October to the university’s Judiciary Committee, a student-run body that could have taken disciplinary action. But late Tuesday night, spokesman Brian Coy confirmed that the university had not escalated the report. He finally did on Tuesday night, Coy said.

The university’s governing body – the Board of Visitors – held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to receive briefings from law enforcement, emergency management officials, staff members and legal advisers on the shooting and the investigation, according to a public program. The board held its meeting in executive session. The public was not allowed to attend and a university spokesperson said board members would have no comment.

Of the two students hospitalized, one was discharged from UVA Medical Center on Tuesday, according to Eric Swensen, spokesman for the health system.

A spokesperson for the family of Mike Hollins, a team running back who was shot in the back, said he was showing signs of improvement on Tuesday after a second operation. He was taken off a ventilator and was 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 then released a statement reiterating that Hollins would approach his long recovery with the same tenacity he used on the court and in the classroom.


Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

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