CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. >> A University of Virginia student shot and killed three members of the school’s football team as they returned to campus from a field trip, setting off panic and a 12-hour lockdown at the school until the suspect was captured today.
The violence that also wounded two students late Sunday erupted near a parking garage and closed much of the campus while police searched through the night for the gunman.
Officials got word during a midmorning news briefing that the suspect, 22-year-old Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. had been arrested.
“Just give me a moment to thank God, breathe a sigh of relief,” university Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. said after learning Jones was in custody.
The shooting happened just after 10:15 p.m. Sunday as a charter bus full of students returned from seeing a play in Washington.
University President Jim Ryan said authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive or circumstances surrounding the shooting.
“The entire university community is grieving this morning,” a visibly strained Ryan said. “My heart is broken for the victims and their families and for all those who knew and loved them.”
The killings happened at a time when the nation is on edge from a string of mass shootings during the last six months, including a shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb that killed seven and wounded more than 30; and a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people and wounded three.
Ryan identified the three students who were killed as: Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. He said one of the wounded students was hospitalized in critical condition, and the other was in good condition.
The shooting touched off an intense manhunt, with authorities conducting a building-by-building search of the campus while students sheltered in place. The lockdown order was lifted late this morning.
Jones was taken into custody without incident in suburban Richmond, police said.
Authorities obtained arrest warrants for Jones charging him with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, Longo said.
Jones had once been on the football team, but had not been on the team for at least a year, Longo said. The UVA football website listed him as a team member during the 2018 season and said he did not play in any games.
Hours after Jones was arrested, first-year head football coach Tony Elliott sat alone outside the athletic building used by the team, at times with his head in his hands. He said the victims “were all good kids” and that he would talk more about them “when the time is right.”
Jones came to the attention of the university’s threat-assessment team this fall after a person unaffiliated with the school reported a remark Jones apparently made about possessing a gun, Longo said.
No threat was reported in conjunction with the concern about the weapon, but officials looked into it, following up with Jones’ roommate.
Longo also said Jones had been involved in a “hazing investigation of some sort.” He said he did not have all the facts and circumstances of that case, though he said the probe was closed after witnesses failed to cooperate.
In addition, officials learned about a prior incident outside Charlottesville involving a weapons violation, Longo said. That incident was not reported to the university as it should have been, he said.
Em Gunter, a second-year anthropology student, heard three gunshots and then three more while she was studying genetics in her dorm room, less than a five-minute walk from the scene of the shootings.
She knew right away there was an active shooter outside and told others to go in their rooms, shut their blinds and turn off the lights. “Everyone in the hallway was freaking out. No one knew what to do,” she said.
For the next 12 hours, she stayed in her room with a friend, listening to a police scanner and messaging her family and friends who were stuck in other areas of the campus. One friend was in a library and ended up sleeping amid the stacks of books. Another was in an off-campus apartment, huddling with her roommates in a closet.
Students know from active shooter drills how to respond, she said.
“But how do we deal with it afterwards?” she asked. “What’s it going to be like in a week, in a month?”
Eva Surovell, the editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, said that after students received an alert about an active shooter, she ran to the parking garage, but saw that it was blocked off by police. When she went to a nearby intersection, she was told to go shelter in place.
“My generation is certainly one that’s grown up with generalized gun violence, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it’s your own community,” she said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were mourning with the university community.
“Too many families across America are bearing the awful burden of gun violence,” the statement said.
Elsewhere, police in Moscow, Idaho, were investigating the deaths of four University of Idaho students found Sunday in a home near the campus.
Officers discovered the deaths when they responded to a report of an unconscious person, authorities said.
The Associated Press News Research Center contributed to this report.