University Shooting In Alabama

Monday, June 11, 2012 - 4:38pm

(CNN)- Alabama authorities Monday held two men accused of hindering prosecution in the weekend shooting that killed three people near Auburn University, but the man accused of pulling the trigger remained at large.

Auburn police said one of those arrested, 18-year-old Jeremy Thomas, escaped from the scene of the shootings with suspect Desmonte Leonard. And Montgomery police say 41-year-old Gabriel Thomas tried to mislead investigators searching for Leonard, and they arrested him Sunday at the request of U.S. marshals.

Police did not immediately disclose the relationship, if any, between the two men. Both were arrested in Montgomery, but Jeremy Thomas was expected to be transferred to a jail in Lee County, which includes Auburn, police said.

Three people were killed and three others wounded late Saturday at an off-campus apartment complex in Auburn, about 50 miles east of Montgomery. The dead included two former Auburn football players while a current football player was among the wounded.

The 22-year-old Leonard faces three counts of capital murder and has previous arrests for gun offenses, but was never prosecuted, according to media reports. The Montgomery resident is now the subject of a multiagency manhunt that stretched into its second day Monday.

Authorities think he is still in the state, Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy told CNN.

Officers received a call reporting the shooting at the University Heights apartments clubhouse about 10:03 p.m. Saturday, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson told reporters Sunday. Arriving officers found Edward Christian, 20, dead at the scene.

Christian, of Valdosta, Georgia, was off the football team because of an injury, Dawson said. Former player Ladarious Phillips, 20, and Auburn resident Demario Pitts, 20, died later at a hospital, he said. Two others, including current Auburn sophomore offensive lineman Eric Mack, 20, of Cameron, South Carolina, were taken to East Alabama Medical Center in the nearby town of Opelika.

Mack was released from the medical center Sunday morning, while another man, 19-year-old Xavier Moss, was treated and released from the same facility.

A third man, 20-year-old John Robertson, was transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, where he was in critical condition after being shot in the head.

Leonard and two other men were thought to have fled the scene in a white Chevrolet Caprice, authorities said. Police later found the car abandoned in an adjacent county, Dawson said.

The men believed to have fled with Leonard were being sought for questioning Sunday, Dawson said, but did not release their identities, saying only that "it would probably be in their best interest to come forward."

The Opelika-Auburn News reported Monday that a $15,000 reward -- $10,000 from the FBI and $5,000 from the U.S. Marshals Service -- was offered for information leading to Leonard's arrest and conviction.

Court records show that Leonard was charged in 2008 with theft and carrying a pistol without a permit, and in 2009 he was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly shooting a 16-year-old in the groin, according to the newspaper.

However, the cases were not prosecuted. The Opelika-Auburn News reported that a grand jury declined to indict Leonard on the charges. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that prosecutors did not pursue charges against Leonard in the shooting after the victim said Leonard was not the one who shot him.

Leonard also has been involved in two child-support cases, including one filed Friday, The Birmingham News reported. The latest suit claims he is the father of a girl born in 2011. In January, according to the newspaper, a court ruled Leonard was the father of a 4-year-old girl by another woman. He was ordered to pay $305 in child support, $21 of which was to go toward about $7,300 in back child support he owed, the News said.

Police have a motive in the shooting, but Dawson would not release it, saying "that's for the courtroom, later on." He did say authorities believe gunfire erupted during a fight at a party.

Several media outlets cited unidentified witnesses as saying the altercation was over a woman.

Witness Turquorius Vines told affiliate WGCL the violence was sudden.

"It went from us chilling with all these females to a massacre for no reason at all," he said.

"I heard what appeared to be six or seven gunshots outside my apartment," resident Nate Conoly told affiliate ABC 33/40. He said he couldn't see anything when he peered outside his window, but heard screaming. "... I went back into my apartment and locked the door," he said.

Dawson told reporters Sunday that Leonard was thought to be in Montgomery, about 55 miles west of Auburn.

A woman identifying herself as only Leonard's grandmother answered the telephone Sunday at an address listed as his in court records, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.

"I'm just very surprised by all of this," she told the newspaper. "This is not the grandson I know, I can tell you that. I've just been sitting here, can't hardly move, I'm so in shock by it. It just doesn't seem real."

Dawson said he was not aware of any connection between Leonard and the university.

Auburn officials expressed condolences to the victims' families, saying many athletes on the football team were grieving after the deaths of Christian and Phillips.

Former Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter told ABC 33/40 he was "pretty devastated, pretty shocked just like everyone else at what happened."

"When you have that team, family atmosphere we have at Auburn, anything like that is going to be a real blow to everyone there," he said.

Gene Chizik, Auburn's head football coach, called it "a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family." Chizik said he was "devastated" by the three deaths, including those of Christian and Phillips, whom he knew personally.

"We have a lot of people on our football team that are hurting right now, and we're going to do everything we can to help them get through this," he said. "We are relieved that Eric Mack, who was also a victim in this incident, is expected to make a full recovery. This is a very trying time for everyone involved, and I would just ask that you lift up the victims and their families in your prayers."

"You don't really know what to do after something like this happens," Trotter told ABC 33/40, "but you have to trust the Lord and believe everything is going to be all right."

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