AUBURN, Ala. >> The girlfriend of a slain Auburn football player said he was arguing with a man at a party when a third man pulled a handgun and opened fire.
Redshirted freshman football player Jakell Lenard Mitchell, 18, died after being shot in the chest early Sunday morning at an off-campus apartment complex. It was the same apartment complex where two former football players and a third man were shot to death outside a 2012 pool party.
Auburn police arrested 22-year-old Markale Deandra Hart of Camp Hill, Alabama, on murder charges on Sunday afternoon. Hart was being held at the Lee County Jail on $150,000 bond. Police have not released a motive for the crime, but said they don’t expect additional arrests.
Mitchell’s girlfriend, Ayanna Hughuley, 17, said Mitchell was arguing with a man in the parking lot, when a third man pulled a handgun.
“He had his gun like this and was looking at Jakell,” Ayanna Hughuley, 17, said of the suspect while holding her hand down at her waistband.
“He just started shooting. Jakell fell on the ground and he tried to get back up and run, and then he fell again. He started shooting at Jakell again while Jakell was on the ground,” Hughuley said.
She said she didn’t know what started the disagreement and doesn’t think that Mitchell knew Hart.
Auburn Police Capt. Will Mathews said police answered a call about 12:25 a.m. Sunday of shots fired at the Tiger Lodge apartment complex, a few miles from the Auburn campus. He said Mitchell was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Mitchell lived in an on-campus dormitory, but had gone to a party at the apartment complex, said his father, Mario Mitchell. Students had just finished final exams for the semester.
Mitchell redshirted this season for the Auburn Tigers out of nearby Opelika High School. Able to play both back and tight end, he was expected to contend for a starting spot next season. Mitchell missed his senior season at Opelika as he recovered from an ACL injury. He had rushed for 392 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 as a high school junior.
Mario Mitchell, who played football for Troy University, said his son had initially planned to go to school out of Alabama.
“It was, ‘Dad, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of this city,'” Mario Mitchell said. “Then he met Coach (Gus) Malzahn. It was like love at first sight for them two.”
He said his son also dreamed of being an FBI agent when he finished school.
Malzahn said he was “devastated and saddened” by the death of the player, a halfback described by the team website as versatile on offense with blocking, catching and running skills.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Jakell’s family and friends, who are suffering through this senseless tragedy,” he said in a statement. “I know the Auburn Family is hurting, especially our players and coaches. … We have lost a member of our family too young, too soon.”
Blue spray paint dotted the Tiger Lodge parking lot where police marked possible evidence. Mitchell’s car, tagged with a license plate “Jakell,” was towed from the parking lot late Sunday morning.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn’s backup quarterback, was one of those who drove up before midday Sunday to remember Mitchell. Johnson wasn’t present at the time of the shooting, but wanted to come by after learning of his teammate’s death.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said, growing emotional. “Jakell was a real good kid.”
Drake Ledet, an Auburn sophomore living in an apartment near the shooting scene, said he heard several gunshots after midnight.
“I’d say it was at least eight (shots),” Ledet said, adding he looked outside to see what was happening. “People were screaming.”
The apartment complex is the same where authorities say Desmonte Leonard killed three men at a party in the summer of 2012. The complex, a few miles from campus, is popular with students. Its name was changed following the 2012 shooting.
Jurors convicted Leonard of capital murder in the shooting deaths of former Auburn football players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips along with DeMario Pitts. Three other people were wounded.
At least one Tiger Lodge resident said Sunday he wanted out of his lease.
“There have been four people killed here. Once again this place is on the national news,” said Auburn junior Barrett Kearens.